Kids Just Won The Right To Sue The Government For Global Warming

“My generation is rewriting history”

Image via YouTube/Alliance for Climate Education

One of the main fears an impending Trump presidency has spawned (alongside deportation threats and diminishing civil rights) is that the gradual environmental progress we’ve made as a country could be swept away practically overnight. Luckily, the youngest generations who are most at risk made a major stand by winning their right to sue the government over climate change.

Last Thursday, U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken delivered a favorable ruling for 21 young plaintiffs that determined their lawsuit against the government and the fossil fuel industry to be valid. According to the plaintiffs, aged from 9 to 20 years old, the federal government’s active contribution to global warming poses a serious threat to the livelihood of current and future generations. Judge Aiken agreed, writing in her ruling, “Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it … This lawsuit is not about proving that climate change is happening or that human activity is driving it. For the purposes of this motion, those facts are undisputed.”

For the young plaintiffs who filed this lawsuit—as well as for climate activists around the country—this validation is a huge win. Climate expert James Hansen, who’s been advocating for progressive change since the ’80s, backed the youth group by serving as a “guardian for future generations.” Among the plaintiffs is 13-year-old Jayden Foytlin, who states on the website of the advocacy group Our Children’s Trust, “Our government seems to care more about money for the fossil fuel industry than our futures. But money isn’t going to matter if we can’t fix our planet.” Fellow plaintiff Xiuhtezcatl Martinez echoed this concern with a call to action, saying in a statement,

“My generation is rewriting history. We’re doing what so many people told us we were incapable of doing: holding our leaders accountable for their disastrous and dangerous actions. I and my co-plaintiffs are demanding justice for our generation and justice for all future generations. This is going to be the trial of our lifetimes.”

Though it’s important to note that they did not arrive at this legal win without facing challenges. According to Motherboard, the federal government, along with the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute all filed a motion to have the case dismissed in 2015 on the grounds that the youth group failed to state a claim. Before retiring and passing the case on to Judge Aiken, U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin denied their request even as the agencies appealed. The case will now go to trial, though a date has yet to be determined.

Even while Slate writer Eric Holthaus predicts defendants will draw out this lawsuit as long as possible and prevent immediate policy changes, it’s the act of holding elected officials accountable that will inevitably make a difference—or at least stem the bleed. Since we started burning fossil fuels less than two centuries ago, there’s been a 25 percent uptick in carbon dioxide pooling into the atmosphere. As NASA has repeatedly pointed out, increasing levels of carbon dioxide cause disastrous effects across the globe, existing evidence of which is overwhelming. Holding the U.S. government responsible will be more important than ever, now that our incoming president believes climate change is a hoax. While we may never be able to convince him of reality, we can empower our democracy to make his personal beliefs irrelevant.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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