In 2015, when a group of 21 children and teens first sued the US government over climate change, their claim in Juliana v. US was not totally new—youth in Uganda and the Netherlands had filed somewhat similar environmental suits—but it seemed a little strange. Shouldn’t these kids be playing video games or something, doing pretty much anything but litigating to save the planet?
Now, the plaintiffs in Juliana v. US are part of an increasingly vocal global movement of young environmental activists leading the fight against climate catastrophe, most visible among them Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, who has chided world leaders for failing to take action. And they are banding together. In March, Thunberg inspired a worldwide protest, with kids skipping school to make the point that their future is on the line because of climate change. On June 1, youth activists will host nearly 100 coordinated press conferences across the US and worldwide announcing new local actions to fight the climate crisis in a show of solidarity with the American plaintiffs who have a hearing before the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on June 4.
The young Americans, some of whom are now adults, argue that they have a constitutional right to a stable climate that sustains life on Earth. While this right is obviously not enumerated in the US Constitution, they say that it is implied by the document. By adopting policies that promote fossil fuel use, leading to the emission of carbon dioxide at rates that change the climate, despite knowing these energy sources are warming the planet, the federal government violates “the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property,” they wrote in their 2015 complaint (pdf). The plaintiffs also contend that the government is failing to protect essential resources held in trust for the public. [Continue reading…]