Hardly a day goes by that global warming isn’t in the news. And from what the scientists have learned, the news is not good: we can expect more extreme storms, scorching summer temperatures, and a rise in sea level over the coming decades measured in feet, not inches.
Youths suing for their environmental future
Now a group of kids are fighting back, in court. In Juliana v. United States, 21 young Americans between the ages of 10 and 21 claim the government is violating their constitutional rights by supporting the use of fossil fuels.
While the Trump Administration is no friend to the environment — the Department of Agriculture is censoring the use of such phrases as “climate change” and “reduce greenhouse gases” in their publications — Juliana was filed in 2015 against then-President Barack Obama, as well as a variety of government agencies.
But their case doesn’t start with 2015. It begins by citing the decades-long research that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to global warming, threatening our health and well-being, and infringing upon our constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.
So, do the kids stand a chance? The U.S. District Court of Oregon thought so, with Judge Ann Aiken siding with the kids, declaring, “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.” The government has appealed, and the case now is in the hands of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Legal action for environmental threats
Environmental lawsuits are nothing new, and environmental regulations can be traced back to at least the 7th century, when Caliph Abu Bakr commanded his army to “bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire.” But in the modern era, with climate change a daily topic in the news, environmental legal action and challenges have become pervasive, at all levels of government in the United States.
- The Pittsburgh city council banned fracking in 2010, the first municipality to do so.
- New York State banned fracking in 2014, citing health risks.
- The California Supreme Court recently upheld the state’s cap-and-trade program, which aims by 2020 to reduce California’s carbon emissions to 1990 levels.
Following the Trump Administration’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate accord — leaving the United States as the only UN-member country not party to the agreement – American cities, states, and businesses have independently pledged to adhere to the agreement.
And as the Ninth Circuit considers Juliana, new challenges continue to emerge. Last month, 16 young Alaskans filed suit against the governor and several state agencies for jeopardizing their health, culture, social, and economic interests. Environmental action may not be new, but it is the new normal, and America’s youth are leading the charge.