They Knew: The US Federal Governments Fifty-Year Role in Causing the Climate Crisis | James Gustave Speth, Julia Olson, Philip Gregory

A devastating, play-by-play account of the federal government’s leading role in bringing about today’s climate crisis.

In 2015, a group of twenty-one young people sued the federal government for violating their constitutional rights by promoting the climate catastrophe, depriving them of life, liberty, and property without due process of law. They Knew offers evidence for their claims, presenting a devastating, play-by-play account of the federal government’s role in bringing about today’s climate crisis. James Speth, tapped by the plaintiffs as an expert on climate, documents how administrations from Carter to Trump–despite having information about climate change and the connection to fossil fuels–continued aggressive support of a fossil fuel based energy system.

What did the federal government know and when did it know it? Speth asks, echoing another famous cover up. What did the federal government do and what did it not do? They Knew (an updated version of the Expert Report Speth prepared for the lawsuit) presents the most compelling indictment yet of the government’s role in the climate crisis, showing a forty-year failure to take action.

Since Juliana v. United States was filed, the federal government has repeatedly delayed the case. Yet even in legal limbo, it has helped inspire a generation of youthful climate activists.


“A rousing condemnation of a system bent on short-term gain against long-term health.” –Kirkus Reviews


“Devastating. Enraging. Indispensable. Would that the world had more heroic elders like Gus Speth. He has produced a damning record that will become a potent tool for justice.”
Naomi Klein, Gloria Steinem Chair in Media, Culture, and Feminist Studies at Rutgers University; author of This Changes Everything, The Shock Doctrine, and No Logo


“With skill and dedication, Gus Speth has documented precisely what we knew and when we knew it. This book is a shocking reminder of the chances for action we’ve already missed, and a spur to finally move with the vigor the climate crisis demands.”
Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College; founder,

“Wondering how in the world the catastrophe of climate change could be happening and whom to hold responsible? Look no further than They Knew—Gus Speth’s enlightening and infuriating new book.”
Van Jones, CNN commentator, author, and founder of the Dream Corps

“Gus Speth has written a history of federal action and inaction on climate change that spares neither Democrats nor Republicans. They Knew is at once a searing indictment and a fascinating read.”
Elizabeth Kolbert, staff writer, New Yorker; author of Under a White Sky and The Sixth Extinction

“Speth reveals the smoking gun of the climate crisis in the US government’s unholy alliance with the fossil fuel industry. The history presented in They Knew makes clear that democratic action is needed now to ensure a future for seven generations to come.
Catherine Flowers, Founder and Director, Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice; Professor of Practice, Duke University; 2020 MacArthur Fellow; author of Waste

About the Author

James Gustave Speth served as member and chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality during the Carter Administration and from 1993 to 1999 was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and served as chair of the UN Development Group. A retired Professor of Law and Senior Fellow at the Vermont Law School, he has also taught at Georgetown and Yale. He is the founder of World Resources Institute and a cofounder of Natural Resources Defense Council.
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ The MIT Press (August 24, 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Hardcover ‏ : ‎ 304 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 0262542986
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-0262542982
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 1.25 pounds
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6.44 x 1 x 9.31 inches

See related:

As well as:

Short list of some reference titles to the work of Gus Speth

See particularly, as well, the excerpt focused on the importance of the cumulative work of Gus Speth:

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