There are two kinds of trust. The first kind of trust is something that happens between two or more people, when they spend lots of time together and built a good relationship. For example “I trust you to keep my secrets.” “I trust you to keep your promises.” “I trust you to do the right thing.” “You can trust me to do the same.” The second kind of trust is an agreement about how money and property are used. In a family trust, for example, there could be an agreement how your Mom’s and Dad’s money is used after they die.
A public trust is a legal paper that says that property, usually lands and forests, are owned by everyone in United States. The government’s job is to make sure that the land is never ruined, because the property belongs to everyone. Another way of looking at it is that the land and everything on it, in a public trust, can’t ever belong to just one person.
This is why you can’t go to a national forest and cut down trees. The land, trees, rocks, animals, and stuff below the surface, like minerals – belongs to EVERY AMERICAN. I bet you didn’t know that you own land, huh? Well, you do – there are many places in the United States where you can go and enjoy being in nature, and our future kids and grandkids can enjoy that place like you do. Cool, huh?
Where did the idea of sharing beautiful places come from? There is an idea known as The Public Trust Doctrine. It is a really old idea from a Roman Emperor, Justinian. In his kingdom, fishermen wanted to take over all access to the ocean. They didn’t want to share the beach with anyone else – just so the fishermen could fish at the beach. Justinian made a rule that said any water that is affected by the ebb and flow of the tides could not be taken over by any person or group of people. These places should remain open to everyone. England was a part of the Roman Empire for a while, and the Public Trust Doctrine became a part of English Law. When the English came to America, they brought along with them the idea of public trust.
In 1892 the Public Trust Doctrine was put to the test in court. What happened was the government of Chicago said that the Illinois Central Railroad were the only people allowed to use a large part of a harbor on Lake Michigan. No one else could use that part lake’s shore. The people thought this was unfair, and they challenged the decision in court. The court decided that the Chicago government didn’t have the right say that only the Illinois Central Railroad could use that shore, because it got in the way of everyone else being able to use it, too.
The next big change to the Public Trust Doctrine came in 1983 in California. The City of Los Angeles wanted to get water for people who lived in Los Angeles from Mono Lake. The Audubon Society, which works to protect nature and animals, was afraid that if the City of Los Angeles was given permission to take water from this lake, it would ruin the natural beauty of the lake. The California Supreme Court decided that the Public Trust Doctrine also protects the people’s common heritage of streams, lakes, marshlands and tidelands. Using the water from Mono Lake for the people of Los Angeles had to be done in a way that made sure nature and beauty were protected.
I think the Public Trust Doctrine must include the other parts of the world that people share and need for life, like air, soils, and oceans. It should also protect things we all rely on, like pollinators and seeds that turn into plants and make more seeds. Right now, corporations are planting seeds that grow into plants that do not have seeds. This means that people have to go back to the corporation for more seeds, instead of being able to go to rather than simply Mother Nature for seeds. These plants also kill butterflies and bees. Plants need pollinators to land on them to help make more seeds. So plants which kill good insects are really bad for the world and the environment.
Corporations that put carbon into the air without thinking about how this hurts everything else in the world must be stopped. We can stop them by asking a judge to include more types of natural resources, like the atmosphere, in the Public Trust Doctrine. Our Children’s Trust is asking the Supreme Court to do this right now. We can make the air cleaner, which will make the planet cooler, by telling as many people as possible about the Public Trust Doctrine.