Our Children's Trust

Judge rules that kids can sue the US government for inaction on climate change

It's their world, we're just minding it.

FIONA MACDONALD
14 APR 2016
 

In an unprecedented move, a US judge has given a group of 21 youths permission to sue the federal government for threatening their future health and security by failing to take sufficient action against climate change, despite being aware of the risks.

"This decision is one of the most significant in our nation’s history," said the kids' attorney, Philip Gregory. "The Court gave America’s youth a fair opportunity to be heard ... The next step is for the Court to order our government to cease jeopardising the climate system for present and future generations." 

 

The lawsuit was brought before Oregon Federal District Court Magistrate, Judge Thomas Coffin, who ruled against dismissing the case. 

And before we get ahead of ourselves here, all that means is that the case will be heard, despite the government's best efforts to get it thrown out. It doesn't mean anyone is going to get in trouble for dragging their feet on climate change just yet, or be ordered to take action, but it's a huge step, because it's the first time a US court will give young people the chance to fight for their future.

The plaintiffs in this case were 21 young people, aged between eight and 19, as well as top climate scientist James Hansen

Put simply, they're suing the federal government because it has "known for decades that carbon dioxide (C02) pollution has been causing catastrophic climate change", but failed to take necessary action to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

And according to the kids' representative, this violates their fifth and ninth amendment rights "by denying them protections afforded to previous generations and by favouring short term economic interests of certain citizens". We've got to say, they kind of have a point...

Judge Coffin ruled that the "unprecedented lawsuit" needed to be heard, seeing as "the debate about climate change and its impact has been before various political bodies for some time now."

 

He added that the government's inaction will also have an incredibly disparate impact on one class of society - in other words, seeing as most of us are going to be dead by the time the proverbial sh*t hits the fan, knowing the risks and still refusing to take action is akin to discriminating against the youth of tomorrow.

The bold move was one of Judge Coffin's last, as he's retiring this year. The case will now move into the hands of Judge Ann Aiken.

This isn't the first time that the courts have become involved in federal law - in the Netherlands last year, a court ruled that the government had to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2020 to avoid "knowingly exposing its own citizens to dangerous situations".

The fact that a similar lawsuit is now being allowed to be heard in the US is a pretty big deal, because it sets a precedent for all kinds of climate change cases to come out of the woodwork. And hopefully it'll result in the US government taking more urgent action to protect their future citizens against extreme temperature increases and rising sea levels. 

"The future of our generation is at stake," said 16-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett. "People label our generation as dreamers, but hope is not the only tool we have. I am a teenager. I want to do what I love and live a life full of opportunities. I want the generation that follows to have the same chance. I absolutely refuse to let our government’s harmful action, corporate greed, and the pure denial of climate science get in the way of that."

"If anything, I’m going to use my positive energy to show my government that I won’t let my world stop for them. WE won’t let our world stop for them. Our generation will continue to be a force for the world," she added. 

All we can say in response to that boss statement is that, if the adults aren’t going to do anything about climate change, we’re glad these incredible kids are stepping up. The power is yours!

via GIPHY

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