Thursday, June 22,2017
from OSP Creation Care Team
“I believe that climate change is the most pressing issue my generation will ever face, indeed that the world has ever faced. It is an environmental issue, and it is also a human rights issue.”
Kelsey Rose Cascadia Juliana, plaintiff in the Juliana v. United States lawsuit
“Exercising my ‘reason judgment,’ I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”
U. S. District Judge Ann Aiken, 9th District
Juliana v United States: the Landmark Climate Lawsuit Brought by Children
On August 12, 2015, 21 young people from 10 states across the United States, now ages 9-21, filed a constitutional climate lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Dr. James E. Hansen, a well-known climate scientist, is also one of the plaintiffs in this case. He joins the case as guardian for his granddaughter and for future generations. The plaintiffs assert that the government’s actions in causing climate change have violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, and have failed to protect essential public trust resources, such as air and water resources. Kelsey Rose Cascadia Juliana, age 21 and resident of Eugene, Oregon, is the lead plaintiff in this case. The plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the federal government to implement a nation-wide plan to bring carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere to a level considered “safe” by climate scientists, less than 350 parts per million (ppm) by 2100.
In November 2015, major fossil fuel and manufacturing industry groups asked to join with the federal government as defendants in the suit. These groups argued that reducing CO2 levels below 350 ppm would not be appropriate because benefits from an improved climate would be outweighed by “enormous losses in productivity and economic development” for the industries they represent. This request was granted by the court. In January 2016, the Global Catholic Climate Movement and the Leadership Council of Women Religious filed friend of the court briefs in support of the children’s case. These groups argued that the children’s call for climate justice and protection of the environment for future generations is consistent with Catholic teaching about our sacred duty to protect children and our planet, and with Pope Francis’ message in his encyclical on caring for our common home, Laudato Si.
The lawsuit has proceeded slowly, with a number of motions and responses by both sides, including several petitions by the government arguing against the children’s right to a trial, all of which have been denied by the court. The case is now in the discovery phase, which establishes relevant issues and expert testimony by both sides. The court believes that a trial date in the early part of 2018 is realistic.
The children all bring their own eloquence and unique stories to the case. Miko Vergun, age 16 and originally from the Marshall Islands, fears that sea level rise fueled by climate change will inundate her birth place. Levi Draheim from Florida, at age 9 the youngest plaintiff, says: “I work hard to protect the environment and animals near my home. I want the government to work hard to protect my future and the future of the animals and ecosystems in our country.” Alex Loznak, age 20, is majoring in Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York City. His home in Oregon is a farm that has been in his family for seven generations, which is now threatened by drought and large wildfires nearby. 11 year old Avery McRae started caring for the earth when she was 5 and heard about threats to salmon in her local creek. She says: “I want my government to understand that climate change is real, changes are happening right now, and things aren’t going to get better on their own.” Journey Zephier, age 17, is an enrolled member of the Yankton Sioux tribe; he now lives in a small town on the island of Kauai, part of the Hawaiian island chain. In his new home, he witnesses the impact of dying coral reefs, drought, and shrinking beaches due to climate change.
Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein of 350.org calls this “the most important lawsuit on the planet right now.” It has the potential to establish whether our children have a legally enforceable right to a future that includes a stable climate and a livable planet, and whether the government has the duty to take steps to ensure that type of future for our kids and our kids’ kids. This lawsuit also shows the impact that committed young people can have on our future. If Juliana v. United States succeeds, it will make the world a better and more just place for all of us.
The children are presented by pro bono lawyers, and supported by the non-profits Our Children’s Trust and Earth Watch. For more information about this landmark lawsuit, or to make a donation to support the work of Our Children’s Trust, visit www.ourchildrenstrust.org/us/federal-lawsuit/
OSP Creation Care Team Welcomes You!
Are you energized by Pope Francis’ message in Laudato Si? Want to be a faithful steward of our common home? OSP Creation Care Team welcomes your ideas and your commitment. Contact Rachel Lyons at 312-798-2399 or firstname.lastname@example.org.