Youth Suing U.S. Federal Government Over Climate Change

Young people across the United States are suing states and the federal government to push for more action on climate change. The youth say their generation will withstand the worst of global warming and that every level of government has an obligation to protect natural resources — including the atmosphere — as a public trust for future generations.

For example, the Oregon-based non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust has been leading efforts to file lawsuits or administrative petitions in every state in the U.S., and they have included the federal government in their petitions and lawsuits.

Some of the cases led by youth have been dismissed, while others are awaiting their day in court in states including Oregon, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts.

The coal fuelled Cottam power station generates electricity. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The Associated Press notes a comment made by Michael Gerrard, a professor and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

“None of them have gotten to the finish line. It’s an uphill climb. The U.S. courts have so far not wanted to set climate policy.”

Experts point out that it’s unclear how a state can combat the global scale of climate change.

Nevertheless, last year, in Seattle, eight activists between the ages of 10 and 15 petitioned the state of Washington to agree to stricter science-based regulations to protect them against climate change.

One of the plaintiffs in the case, 13-year-old Gabriel Mandell, expresses his concern about climate change.

“We’re the ones who have to live with it if the oceans are acidic and the planet is 5 degrees warmer. “The snowpack is melting. Ocean is acidifying. The Earth is warming. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong, and we need to fix it.”

Mandell and other youth people are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center. They declare that the state of Washington has failed to reduce carbon emissions based on the best available science. They also argue that the government has violated its responsibilities and actions under the state constitution.

Protestors Clash With Police
Protesters demanding economic and political changes to curb the effects of climate change and global warming. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

The youth reference the legal principle called the public trust doctrine, which the Supreme Court declared, in 1892, that the “Sovereign Lands” of a state are held in trust by the state for all present and future generations. The youth allege the government is failing at their requirement to protect shared resources for future generations.

The climate change cases across the U.S. need to pass certain legal obstacles, like determining whether the public trust doctrine actually applies to the Earth’s atmosphere or whether the children have substantial justification to sue. Some cases deal with the challenging barriers, whereas, other cases remain stagnant or were dismissed.

For example, in Oregon, two Eugene teenagers are appealing their climate change case after a state judge rejected their petition in May. The judge’s ruling stated that Oregon’s public trust doctrine does not apply to the water, beaches, shorelines, and atmosphere.

Climate Change Protester Dressed As Grim Reaper
A climate change protestor dressed as The Grim Reaper marches near Parliament. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

Earlier this year, 21 youths across the U.S. sued the federal government, alleging that approval of fossil fuel development is in violation of the fundamental right of citizens to be free from government actions that harm life, liberty, and property.

A Seattle high school sophomore, 15-year-old Aji Piper, a plaintiff in the federal government case and the lawsuit in Washington does not think enough progress is being made the government concerning climate change.

“The government isn’t doing the best to assure that we have the best quality of life. It holds more urgency for us. Our future is at hand.”

The Environmental Protection Agency did not offer a comment on details of the climate change lawsuit but said in a statement that President Barack Obama and the agency have been taking action to “give our kids and grandkids the cleaner, safer future they deserve.”

[Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images]