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Youth Climate Action: Young People Sue US Government

Washington, DC, USA —(Map)

Upset by how long it is taking adults to deal with the problems of climate change, young people around the world are fighting to force their governments to take action. This article is the first in a series about young people fighting for action on climate change.

In the US, a group of 21 young people, aged 11 to 22, are suing the government (taking it to court), saying that the government did not work to deal with climate change, even though it knew about the problem.

The lawsuit, which is called “Juliana v. United States”, is named after Kelsey Juliana, who is the main plaintiff. (The “v.” means against.)

Youth and attorneys involved in the Our Children's Trust federal lawsuit. (Photos copyright Robin Loznak)
A group of 21 young people are taking the US government to court, saying that the government did not work to stop climate change, even though it knew about the problem.
(Source: Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust.)

Climate Change 
Climate change means the change in weather patterns around the world because of human activity. Global warming is one result of climate change. The world is getting hotter, mainly because humans are burning “fossil fuels” like coal, oil, and natural gas to make energy.
In 2015, the world’s countries signed the Paris Agreement, which set goals for countries to pollute less by replacing fossil fuel energy with energy that doesn’t pollute.

Youth and attorneys involved in the Our Children's Trust federal lawsuit. (Photos copyright Robin Loznak)
Julia Olson is the main lawyer for the young people who are suing. She says that climate change is a serious threat to young people.
(Source: Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust.)

Julia Olson is the main lawyer for the plaintiffs (the young people who are suing). She says that climate change is “one of the most profound [serious] threats to young people I’ve ever seen.”

The plaintiffs believe that the US law says the government must protect the environment – not just for people now, but for everyone in the future, too. They say that the government knew about the dangers of climate change, and didn’t do anything. Instead, it encouraged the use of fossil fuels, which made things worse.

Climate change scientist Dr. JAMES HANSEN, center greets well-wishers as her enter the courthouse for a hearing in the Juliana v. U.S. climate change lawsuit in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The court was holding a hearing on a motion by the Trump administration to stop the lawsuit from proceeding to trial. The case involves 21 young people suing the federal government over their constitutional right to a stable climate. They hope to force the Trump administration to institute a science based climate recovery program. (Robin Loznak)
Dr. James Hansen, a scientist who worked for NASA, is also part of the case. He made news 30 years ago, in 1988, by warning about climate change and global warming.
(Source: Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust.)

Dr. James Hansen, a scientist who worked for NASA, is also part of the case. He made news 30 years ago, in 1988, by warning about climate change and global warming. Dr. Hansen’s granddaughter is now one of the plaintiffs.

The plaintiffs say that the lives and freedom of young people were put in danger because the US government encouraged fossil fuels. Under the US law, everyone has the right to “life and liberty [freedom]”, and the government can’t take these away.

Youth plaintiff LEVI DRAHEIM rides on the shoulders of co-plaintiff AJI PIPER during the People's Climate March in Washington, D.C., with some of their co-plaintiffs who are suing the federal government on constitutional grounds over climate change. The non-profit Our Children's Trust law firm of Eugene, Ore., is spearheading the ground breaking legal action. The case is on course to go to trail in federal court in Eugene in the fall of 2017. (Robin Loznak/
Levi, the youngest plaintiff, rides on the shoulders of Aji Piper, another plaintiff, during the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC. Levi lives on an island that could be covered with water if sea levels keep rising because of climate change.
(Source: Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust.)

To prove its case, the lawyers behind the Juliana case are working to show how climate change has affected the young people. For example, 11-year-old Levi, the youngest plaintiff, lives on an island that could be covered with water if sea levels keep rising because of climate change.

The US government says that the young people will not be able to show that they have been hurt by the government’s actions. They say the plaintiffs are trying to use the US courts to make laws, but that should be the job of Congress.

The lawyers for the young people have had to work hard. The US government has tried to stop the lawsuit many times. But each time, judges have said that the suit can go on.
(Source: Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust.)

The lawsuit was first started in 2015. The US government has tried to stop it many times. But each time, judges have said that the suit can go on.

Most recently, the trial was supposed to start in the United States District Court in Oregon on October 29. The government again tried to stop it. The Supreme Court has said the trial can go ahead. But the court also said the trial could not begin right away. It is unusual for the Supreme Court to step in like that.

Kelsey Juliana, the main plaintiff, speaks in front of the Supreme Court. The court has said the suit can go on, but it has also delayed it.
(Source: Robin Loznak/Our Children’s Trust.)

For now, no one knows for sure when the trial will start. Both sides are still working to make sure they are ready.

The plaintiffs understand just how important this case is. As Miko, a 17-year-old plaintiff from Oregon puts it, “As a teen, I can tell you this is our future we’re talking about. We have to stop going about our lives as if nothing is happening.”

Washington, DC, USA


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