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Lawsuits & Litigation

The Climate Change Kids Have a Real Case

— November 23, 2016

Incoming President-elect Trump certainly has his share of legal troubles to work through, but here’s one I bet he didn’t expect to face: a bunch of kids suing his government over the inevitable effects of climate change. The climate change kids won their right to a day in court recently when US District Judge Ann Aiken decided not to dismiss the case.

Originally the climate change kids had aimed their legal barb at the Obama administration. Even though Obama had a far better track record for climate action than his colleagues across the aisle, the actions taken to limit greenhouse gas emissions haven’t been significant enough to reverse the tide towards catastrophic climate change. The 21 plaintiffs, who currently range in age from 9 to 20 years old, assert that while today’s youth have little voice in shaping climate policy or affecting change, they (and their descendants) will be far more affected by an unstable climate than will the people making decisions for them today.

While the Obama administration moved to dismiss the lawsuit, it will be even more poignant if the case proceeds against the Trump administration. Trump tweeted in 2012 that climate change was invented by the Chinese to make American manufacturing less competitive, a claim that the Chinese dispute.

Donald Trump is not a believer in global warming. Video collage posted to YouTube by Consumer.

With their lawsuit, the kids are not claiming that any specific laws have been broken. Rather, they allege that the government, as keeper of the public trust, is not taking proper actions to safeguard the environment in a way that leaves them a habitable environment in their turn. If their argument prevails, policy would be forced to change.

This is reminiscent of the request made in Washington State by another group of teenagers also backed by the environmental nonprofit Our Children’s Trust. These kids are asking for climate policy to be based upon the best science currently available. Perhaps surprisingly, this is not currently the case, with ideology and business interests setting the tone for climate policy decisions, more than a good, hard, brutally honest look at reality.

Perhaps readers from the Baby Boomer generation can reach back and remember when they were younger and more idealistic, believing that protests, music, and love would change the world and end the war. Young people often have a crystal clear vision for what needs to be done to set things right, even as they lack the life experience that teaches them exactly how hard it will be to reach that goal, how entrenched the system really is, and all the other reasons things end up not changing radically for the better. At the same time, jaded elders don’t seem to be able to change the world in the ways it needs to be changed, as they have become comfortable in their ways and change becomes politically difficult. Perhaps this case, and the legal precedent it would set should the climate change kids prevail, could bring together the starry-eyed enthusiasm of youth and the experience of age, combining these forces into a powerful weapon that actually affects the future in ways that allow us to continue living here in some capacity.

Then again, three powerful trade groups, the American Petroleum Institute (API), the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers (AFPM), and the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM), have asked to join the defense along with the government. Good luck, Climate Change Kids. You’re going to need it.


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