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21 American Youths Are Suing the Government for Inaction on Climate Change

“I’m going to use my positive energy to show my government that I won’t let my world stop for them.”

| 3 min read

“I’m going to use my positive energy to show my government that I won’t let my world stop for them.”

In what is being hailed as the “most important lawsuit on the planet right now,” a US judge has given a group of 21 youths permission to sue the federal government and the fossil fuel industry for violating their constitutional rights by enabling continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels.

In other words, they're suing the federal government because it has “known for decades that carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution has been causing catastrophic climate change” but failed to take sufficient action to reduce fossil fuel emissions.

The lawsuit was brought before Oregon Federal District Court Magistrate, Judge Thomas Coffin, who ruled against dismissing the case.

“This decision is one of the most significant in our nation’s history,” said the kids' attorney, Philip Gregory in a media release. “The Court gave America’s youth a fair opportunity to be heard.”

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What exactly does this entail? According to ScienceAlert, it just means the case will be heard despite the government’s best efforts to get it thrown out, but it is a huge step. This is the first time a US court will give youth the chance to fight for their future.

The plaintiffs in this case are 21 youths, between the ages eight and 19, as well as top climate scientist James Hansen. According the the kids’ representative, the government is violating their fifth and ninth amendment rights “by denying them protections afforded to previous generations and by favoring short term economic interests of certain citizens.” That hits the nail straight on the head, doesn’t it?

As part of Friday’s (April 8) historic decision, Judge Coffin characterized the case as an “unprecedented lawsuit” addressing “government action and inaction” resulting “in carbon pollution of the atmosphere, climate destabilization, and ocean acidification.”

He added that the government's inaction will also have a “disparate impact on one class of society.” In other words, considering most of us will be dead by the time the disastrous climate changes occur, knowing the risks and still refusing to take action is equal to discriminating against the youth of tomorrow.

The case is now being handed over to Judge Ann Aiken since Judge Coffin is retiring this year.

Back in January 2016, Defendant status was granted to three fossil fuel industry trade associations, representing nearly all of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies. They are calling the case “extraordinary” and “a direct, substantial threat to [their] businesses.” The federal government and the fossil fuel industry are denying any duty under the constitution to protect essential natural resources, such as air and oceans, for the benefit of all present and future generations.

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“The future of our generation is at stake,” said 16-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett. “People label our generation as dreamers, but hope is not the only tool we have. I am a teenager. I want to do what I love and live a life full of opportunities.”

“If anything, I’m going to use my positive energy to show my government that I won’t let my world stop for them. WE won’t let our world stop for them. Our generation will continue to be a force for the world,” Barrett continued.

Youth Plaintiff Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh Martinez commented, “When those in power stand alongside the very industries that threaten the future of my generation instead of standing with the people, it is a reminder that they are not our leaders. The real leaders are the twenty youth standing with me in court to demand justice for my generation and justice for all youth.”

Martinez added, “We will not be silent, we will not go unnoticed, and we are ready to stand to protect everything our "leaders" have failed to fight for. They are afraid of the power we have to create change. And this change we are creating, will go down in history.”

Drops microphone.

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