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Denée Reaves’s Blog

Youth Taking Legal Action Against Climate Change

Denée Reaves

Posted May 15, 2014

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All those wondering what the troublesome “youths” have been up to recently, this blog post is for you. Along with getting our higher education degrees (I’ve attended two MA graduations in the last week alone), being new and innovative entrepreneurs, attending rallies/protests, and generally fighting for a future we believe in, we are also filing lawsuits. On May 4th 2011, five teenagers and two non-profit organizations, WildEarth Guardians and Kids vs. Global Warming ( also known as iMatter), partnered with Our Children’s Trust to file a federal lawsuit against the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of the Interior, the United States Department of Agriculture, the United States Department of Commerce, the United States Department of Energy and the United States Department of Defense for inadequate action to address climate change. Now three years later, the case is pending in U.S Court of Appeals in the D.C. Circuit and oral arguments were heard on May 2nd. You can view the full timeline of the case here.

According to the Al Jazeera’s recent article covering the lawsuit, the federal case is not only spearheaded by youth, but also backed by leading climate scientists and legal scholars. The lawyer representing the teenagers and the non-profit organizations, Julia Olson, is a member of Our Children’s Trust; an organization that strives to provide legal recourse to youth fighting for a better and healthier future. Olson is arguing the case under the public trust doctrine, which requires the government to protect any and all resources inherent to the survival of all generations. She has applied the public doctrine to the atmosphere under the groundbreaking legal strategy termed the atmospheric trust litigation.

Along with Julia Olson, is retired climate scientist James Hansen, who agreed to write a scientific paper along with 17 other scientists, detailing the requirements for stabilizing the climate and avoiding detrimental effects on the planet and future generations. 13 year old Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, founder of environmental non-profit Earth Guardians and organizer of multiple successful actions in his hometown of Boulder Colorado, put the numbers found in the paper to good use: “We want the government to reduce carbon emissions nationally by 6 percent every year until we get down to 350 parts per million.” The lawsuit is asking that the court enforce the legal right of the people and order compliance with the public trust doctrine from the six government agencies being sued. In support of the federal suit, actions have been filled in all 50 states.

My fellow young people have been serious about stopping climate change and protecting our environment for quite some time. More and more we are utilizing all tools available to us in order to make that happen. It is a shame that so many are moving at such a slower pace to help achieve a society beneficial to us all. Everyone needs to get on board if we are going to resolve the problem of climate change, and it seems that young people are increasingly in the forefront of this fight. There is a saying: “out of the mouth of babes comes wisdom or truth.” Every day those like Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez continue to make that saying less of an idiom and more of a fact. 

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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