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.)
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.
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.
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 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.
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
View Larger Map