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(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal are back from participating at the United Nations climate conference in Cancun, Mexico. This is their assessment of what happened.)

In the early morning hours of December 11, the nations of the world concluded the U.N. climate change conference by adopting a set of decisions that lays the foundation for the world to tackle climate change in the future, while taking modest but critical steps forward on key issues.

This week, following a challenge from California water districts, the state and corporate agribusiness, a federal judge ordered the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to revise its plan to protect the delta smelt, a fish that makes its home in the brackish waters of the San Francisco Bay Delta. Earthjustice attorneys defended a biological opinion from USFWS that implemented protections for the smelt, and while the judge agreed with the majority of the biological opinion, he asked for revisions to specific sections.

As a child, Earthjustice client Michael Donahoe spent many early mornings waterskiing along the west shore of Lake Tahoe. The lake was so clear that he could see a hundred feet down into its depths.

"It was a glassy, beautiful, blue lake," said Donahoe. "The boulders that were down there, it looked like you could reach out and touch them."

What stands between Americans and clean air isn't science, technology, or the law. It's politics. Last month, I wrote that the incoming House leadership of the new Congress is already beating the war drum in anticipation of taking down the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the critical health protections it is required by law to enact.

This is a defining moment.

Many years ago, a friend of mine was just starting out in the environmental movement, and the late Florida environmental activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas (she authored the classic Everglades: River of Grass) offered some advice.

If you're going to do this kind of work, prepare to have your heart broken, because even when you win, you're never done.

When Jerry Brown became governor of California in 1975, it was, for many of us, a relatively green nirvana. He created the Office of Appropriate Technology. He established a state sustainable energy agency called SolarCal.They were heady times, and much good was accomplished.

Now, he's coming  back to Sacramento as governor, older and maybe wiser, and old hands are looking to see if the same progressive ideas will be showing up. We'll see. When he was mayor of  Oakland, Brown hired the founder of the Rainforest Action Network, Randy Hayes, to make Oakland a sustainable city. Will there be a return act?

California, of course, is in a gigantic mess, budget-wise. Programs will be cut. Taxes will be raised. No fun. But maybe this is an opportunity to put lean, mean and green policies and programs to work

Roger Beers, a lawyer who worked for Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council, once said that environmental cases are the most political of all. He meant that in environmental cases, the biases of the judge in a case are more likely to steer his decisions than in other kinds of cases.

I don't know if that's true, but I do know that our lawyers were always happy to draw federal judge Sam King should they be filing suit in Hawai`i. His biases--that's too loaded a word, of course, maybe his instincts--tended to be on the side of people and the natural world.

Rose Eveleth has an interesting piece on the National Resource Defense Council’s OnEarth blog about zoos choosing to house only the cutest, “richest” animals and leaving the less appealing critters to their own devices. This is important, Eveleth says, because zoos often operate breeding programs where endangered animals can safely reproduce offspring, which can then be released back into the wild, thus increasing the species’ ultimate prospects for survival.

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About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.