“As a youth, and therefore someone on the front-lines of climate change chaos, I have everything to gain from taking action and everything to lose by not.” This statement was stated by Kelsey Juliana, one of the young plaintiffs in the Oregon case that is asking her state government to bring down carbon emissions in compliance with what scientists say is ‘necessary’ in order to avoid catastrophic climate change.
Like other young activists of her generation, Kelsey feels that there is too much at stake to wait for today’s political leaders to get their act together and take meaningful action on climate change.
Alec Loorz, founder of the non-profit Kids vs. Global Warming, voiced similar: We need to demand our political leaders “govern as if our future matters.” Every choice dictates the future we will all experience tomorrow, therefore the moment of in-action is past, and its the younger generation fighting to let this truth be known.
“We are all in imminent danger,” said Loorz to Outside Magazine. “Scientists have said we have 10 years to make changes if we want to stabilize the climate by 2100 – and that was back in 2005… We care more about money and power than we do about future generations. The judicial system is the only branch of government not bought out by corporate interests.”
These young adults are not alone in their concern for the climate. Last month on the Bill Moyer show, Mary Christina Wood, law professor at the University of Oregon and author of Nature’s Trust: Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age, explains what is being called the “Children’s Climate Crusade.”
What exactly are these young people asking for? “Every suit and every administrative petition filed in every state in the country and against the federal government asks for the same relief,” Wood says. “And that is for the government … to bring down carbon emissions in compliance with what scientists say is necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change.”
Ready for change, the young people have taken their case to the courts in the hopes that the judiciary will require the legislature to take action. “Every suit and every administrative petition filed in every state in the country and against the federal government asks for the same relief,” says Mary Christina Wood. Do these litigants have any legal grounds to stand on, however?
As it turns out, yes. “You find it in case law going back to the beginning years of the country,” says Wood. “The U.S. Supreme Court has announced the Public Trust Doctrine in multiple cases over the years and it’s in every state jurisprudence as well.”
The Public Trust Doctrine says “the government is a trustee of the resources that support our public welfare and survival,” according to Wood. The doctrine “requires our government to protect and maintain survival resources for future generations.” Based on this long-standing principle, the young plaintiffs have cases at the state and federal level.
Five teenagers and two non-profit organizations – Kids vs. Global Warming and WildEarthGuardians – partnered with Our Children’s Trust to file a federal lawsuit at the federal level. However, their petition for their case to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court was denied in December. In response, the plaintiffs vow to “advance their climate claims in lower federal courts until the federal government is ordered to take immediate action on human-made climate change.”
At a state level, cases are pending in Oregon, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Washington, and Colorado. Courts in Alaska, Texas, Arizona, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Montana have issued “developmental decisions on which the pending case are in part based.” Teen plaintiffs supported by Our Children’s Trust have filed administrative rule-making petitions in every state in the country.
Stated Xiuhtezcatl Marinez, one of the young plaintiffs in the Colorado anti-fracking case, after learning the court rejected the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commissions request for dismissal of their lawsuit, “I think there are a lot of kids here in Colorado and around the world who would be so excited to get the gift of clean air and water, snow in the mountains, abundant wildlife, and safe communities.” Marinez is right, and follows with an example of other states adding value to their land by making climate change a priority: “New York showed us all [by banning fracking] that a state can value the health of kids as a top priority. That’s what this whole thing is about, making Colorado a safe place to live for ours and future generations.”
At present Oregon and Massachussetts’ cases are moving forward. Last month legal arguments took place in Oregon’s case, and will soon culminate in a court hearing before Judge Rasmussen once again on March 13, 2015.
As for Oregon, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled last summer that “The court must decide whether the atmosphere is a public trust resource that the state of Oregon, as a trustee, has a duty to protect along with recognized public trust assets such as estuaries, rivers, and wildlife.” The plaintiff will now argue in the Circuit Court that not only does the state have a duty to protect the atmosphere, “but that it is violating its trustee obligation to present and future generations if it does not.”
Judge Gordon in Massachusetts will hear oral arguments on March 9 in a case posed by four young litigants who say that the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection is “Failing to fulfill its legal obligations to reduce Massachusetts’ greenhouse gas emissions, as required by the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act.”
Clearly, big change is about to happen. Thanks to technological advances, inquiring minds at every age, and a hardy determination shown by young people all around the world, activists of the younger generation will not much longer tolerate injustice and ignorance on a level that affects all humankind and negatively impacts the environment.
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