05/19/2015 12:14 pm ET Updated May 19, 2016

The Mouse That Roared

It's not often that the world's eyes are fixed on the Netherlands, and perhaps in a larger sense they aren't even now. But for a number of us for whom climate change is just about as important an issue as any in our lifetime, our eyes are now squarely fixed on this relatively small patch of land on the windswept banks of the North Sea.

The reason is a few weeks back a group of citizens from the Netherlands filed a class action lawsuit, the outcome of which may well be felt the world over, and not just by this current generation, but generations to come.

The long and short of it? These Dutch men and women (under the auspices of an activist environmental organization that calls itself Urgenda - as in "urgent agenda") have sued their government over its ongoing role in the emission of carbon gases and the resulting climate change. And the suit, perhaps brilliantly, claims that the primary role of government is to protect its people, something it likewise claims the leadership of the Netherlands is failing to do by not limiting carbon emissions into the atmosphere and not doing anything about the subsequent fallout.

Will it work? Who knows? First, in terms of both landmass and population, the Netherlands is tiny by just about any global standard. So even if Urgenda wins, there's a good chance that victory will do little to stem the rapid encroachment of climate change.

Second, what is any government but an extension of its people, who are perpetrators of the very problem at the heart of the Urgenda lawsuit, as they prove every day by continuing to burn fossil fuels and emit carbon into the atmosphere.

But that said -- there is a good amount of sound logic at work behind the class action suit. And just maybe, should those Dutch citizens prevail, other countries might pick up their torch and carry it back to their respective courts - shifting, ever so slightly but perhaps profoundly, the argument of sustainability and prudent management of our resources from the laboratory, or even one's individual conscience, to the courtroom.

That's exactly how Thurgood Marshall eventually helped his people achieve their hard-fought civil rights some 60 years ago in this country. It wasn't riots that brought about such radical social change and helped unravel years of institutional bias, injustice and hated. It wasn't peaceful protests. And it wasn't civil disobedience or impassioned pleas.