Children Are Leading The Way On Climate Change

Juliana v. U.S. Government a/k/a The Children’s Climate Change lawsuit was first filed in August 2015 in Eugene Oregon.  The Plaintiffs are twenty-one children and young adults, and two environmental organizations:  Our Children’s Trust (www.ourchildrenstrust.org) and Earth Guardians (www.earthguardians.org).

This case has been pending for five and one-half years and it has not yet proceeded to trial as a result of unprecedented delay tactics waged by Trumps’ Department Of Justice. The Trump administration and the fossil fuel industry filed numerous Motions and Briefs to deny the children’s lawsuit their day in court.

The lawsuit filed in 2015 sued the federal government for violating their right to clean air, clean water, a healthy future, and a stable climate that can sustain life. They claim the federal government is depriving them of a clean environment by continuing to give billions of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry that has created an energy system that contributes to climate change. The children demand that the United States develop a national, comprehensive, science-based, and just climate recovery plan to meet emissions reduction targets.

However, on March 9th, 2021more roadblocks as attorneys for the children had to file an amended complaint, in light of a decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that the Court lacked the authority to order the federal government to prepare a climate recovery plan. The plaintiffs’ amended complaint is focused on winning a declaratory judgment that the nation’s fossil fuel-based energy system is unconstitutional — much like the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education argued the public school system of segregation was unconstitutional.

If U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken grants the motion to amend, the youth plaintiffs’ case would be able to move forward in the trial court on the question of whether the federal government’s fossil fuel-based energy system and resulting climate destabilization, is unconstitutional. 

Key officials with the Biden administration, who are now defendants in the Juliana case, would be faced with the decision of whether to let the case go to trial or whether to employ the same scorched earth tactics as the Trump administration to deny the plaintiffs their day in court.

THE CHILDREN’S AMENDED LAWSUIT

On May 13, 2021, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken ordered attorneys for the youth plaintiffs and attorneys with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to convene for a settlement conference before June 25, 2021. 

It is expected the Biden administration will seek a legal opinion from the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel which provides legal interpretations to the executive branch.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Julia Olson of Our Children’s Trust, said: “If there’s real movement and the federal government comes to the table with some substantive, meaningful proposals that aren’t just symbolic, we’re committed to negotiating.” Such proposals could, for instance, include a legislating deadline to stop selling internal combustion vehicles, as reported by Reuters.

Should settlement talks fail, the plaintiffs will push for trial.

There is no end to all the people who try to stop this case. This is the third administration that has occupied the White House as courts have litigated Juliana v. the United States. This case has been before the Ninth Circuit four times and the Supreme Court twice, and yet the trial has not started. When this case first started the children were 8 and 19, they are now 13 and 24.

The latest attempt to stop this case comes from Attorney Generals in 17 states who filed on June 8, 2021, to insert themselves as adversaries to the children’s lawsuit and object to any potential settlement between the Biden Administration and the youth plaintiffs.

Hopefully, the government will start making climate change a serious priority before the planet gets so hot we can’t live on it.

A RESOLUTION TO SUPPORT THE CHILDREN’S LAWSUIT IS IN CONGRESS

A concurrent resolution “The Children’s Fundamental Rights and Climate Recovery Resolution 2021” was reintroduced on Earth Day, 4/22/21, in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to protect the fundamental rights of children to a safe and stable climate. Their mission was to urge members of Congress to recognize their constitutional rights and to recognize that the climate crisis is disproportionately affecting the health, economic opportunity, and fundamental rights of children.

The resolution was introduced by Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), and Bobby Rush (D-IL).

“Climate change is real, and its effects are happening at an alarming rate. We’re already seeing the devastating effects of the climate crisis, but it’s today’s children and future generations that will have to pay the bill,” Rep. Schakowsky said. 

“As we continue to witness catastrophic climate-related events and as they continue escalating, this resolution is more important than ever because children’s rights, futures, and lives are at stake,” Rep. Jayapal said.

The resolution is supported by 10 Senators and 44 U.S. House Representatives plus 74 organizations. 

While all these legal and political maneuvers are going on, the planet is burning up and natural disasters are getting more extreme, and here is what some of the experts say.

THE NATIONAL OCEANIC AND ATMOSPHERIC ADMINISTRATION (NOAA)

(NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) has released the final 2020 update to its Billion-dollar disaster report officially confirming what communities across the nation experienced first-hand that 2020 was a historic year of extremes.

In 2020, there were 22 separate billion-dollar weather and climate disasters across the United States, shattering the previous annual record of 16 events in 2017 and 2011. The billion-dollar events of 2020 included a record 7 disasters linked to tropical cyclones, 13 to severe storms, 1 to drought, and 1 to wildfires. The 22 events cost the nation a combined $95 billion in damages. 

Each year, the United States averages some 10,000 thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, 1,300 tornadoes, and at least 2 Atlantic hurricanes, as well as widespread droughts and wildfires. Weather, water, and climate events cause an average of approximately 650 deaths and $15 billion in damage per year.  About one-third of the U.S. economy – some $3 trillion – is sensitive to weather and climate. The strength and frequency of these weather events continue to increase each year.

NATIONAL AERONAUTICS AND SPACE ADMINISTRATION (NASA) ON GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE

The current warming trend is of particular significance because most of it is extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over millennia.

Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

Scientists have documented global climate change with evidence of global temperature rise, warming oceans, shrinking ice sheets, glacial retreat, decreased snow cover, sea level rise, declining arctic sea ice, extreme weather events, and ocean acidification.

The latest measurement of carbon dioxide in May 2021 was 416 parts per million (ppm).

Over the past 171 years, human activities have raised atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by 48% above pre-industrial levels found in 1850. This is more than what had happened naturally over a 20,000 year period.

SEVERE DROUGHT IN WESTERN STATES

Almost three-fourths of the western U.S. is gripped by drought so severe that it’s off the charts of anything recorded in the 20-year history of the U.S. Drought Monitor.

“We have never seen a drought at the scale and intensity that we see right now, and this may be the baseline for the future,” Elizabeth Klein, senior counselor for the Department of Interior told a Congressional hearing. 

Based on paleohydrology, scientists say the Colorado River is experiencing one of its driest periods in 1,200 years, Klein said, as reported in Farm Progress.

The wildfires in California and the hurricanes in the Atlantic have not started yet. They may also break records this year.

Congress, it’s time to listen to science and the children on climate change.

*Most of the information on the children’s lawsuit come from updates from ourchildrenstrust.org

Written by Gloria Tatum

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