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Kids Take On Climate Change

As reported in TIME and Our Children’s Trust, a group of 21 young Americans from all over the U.S., who range in age from 9 to 20, are making a historic move by suing the federal government. Also acting as plaintiff is world renowned climate scientist, Dr. James E. Hansen. They are demanding an increased effort on addressing climate change. On November 10, 2016 the group won a notable battle, as a federal court rejected the government's request to dismiss the case. The ruling paves the way for the young plaintiffs to take their case to trial in federal court. A ruling in their favor would be a huge step forward on the issue of human’s effect on our environment, and our hand in climate change. The case would most likely be appealed to an increasingly conservative Supreme Court, in the wake of Donald Trump's win.

“We are standing here to fight and protect everything that we love—from our land to our waters to the mountains to the rivers and forests,” Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, a 16-year-old plaintiff in the case told supporters after a hearing in Eugene, Ore. this fall. “This is the moment where we decide what kind of legacy we are going to leave behind for future generations.”

The case is made on the legal argument that climate change threatens the plaintiffs' fundamental constitutional right to life and liberty. Julia Olson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs and executive director of Our Children’s Trust, argued in court that the federal government has understood the threat of climate change for decades and knowingly put the lives of future generations in danger. She argued that the current measures in place to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are insufficient and do not reflect the views of current science.

Lawyer for the Justice Department Sean Duffy acknowledged in a September hearing that climate change poses an urgent threat but dismissed the idea that individual citizens could sue the federal government over the issue. The federal government has no means to address the complaint, Duffy argued. In the hearing, Judge Ann Aiken issued an opinion and order denying the U.S. government and fossil fuel industry’s motion to dismiss the constitutional climate change lawsuit. The decision means that the youth now have standing because their rights are at stake, and their case is headed to trial. She suggested that the court could play a role in bringing the federal government and the environmental activists together to negotiate an agreement.

“I would think the government would want the help of the courts to push the good work it’s doing,” she told Duffy. “There is so much common ground.” Of course, that common ground will likely evaporate, as Trump has taken office. Trump has repeatedly rejected the science of man-made climate change as a candidate and promised to undo many existing regulations. A lawsuit forcing policymakers to the table to take action on climate change would be a game-changing—if unlikely—victory for climate change activists at an otherwise dark moment.

The victory is only a first step forward for this unprecedented lawsuit. The case now faces trial, and whatever decision the court comes to will most likely be appealed, perhaps as far as the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court ruled in Massachusetts vs. Environmental Protection Agency that the EPA needs to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. But the Court has changed since then and will continue to change with Trump in office.

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