The Future of the Environment Could Be in the Hands of These 21 Kids


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As humans and as a country, we typically have a pretty hard time looking at the long-term trajectory of stuff. It's kind of been our MO to deal with the effects that policies have on our citizens in the actual moment, and while there's merit to that, it means that gigantic, long-term projects don't get the attention they need or deserve. Like, you know, climate change. We've been hesitant to deal with it even in the face of imminent danger, but a group of kids who represent the generation that will arguably be hit the hardest by a damaged climate are suing the United States for failing to protect them, and so far, they're doing pretty well in court.

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The case, Juliana v. United States, is organized by the nonprofit Our Children's Trust on behalf of a group of 21 plaintiffs ranging in age from 9 to 20, all of whom allege that climate change directly affects the well-being guaranteed to them in the United States Constitution.

Some say that the government is directly responsible for harming their water or food supply; others say that the government is to blame for homes damaged by flooding or other disasters. All argue that the damages done to them are preventable. If the government hadn't always prioritized short-term gains over long-term climate protection, they wouldn't be suffering, they say.

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It seems like somewhat of a wild claim, but it has enormous potential to create actual, enforceable standards that we can hold the government to. And at least one judge feels their case has merit -- on November 10, a federal district judge in Oregon named Ann Aiken ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, writing that:

I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society .... To hold otherwise would be to say that the Constitution affords no protection against a government's knowing decision to poison the air its citizens breathe or the water its citizens drink.

Here's the thing, though: Even the Obama administration is fighting against the lawsuit, and it is historically in favor of lessening the United States' environmental impact. When President-elect Trump becomes the automatic defendant after he takes office in January, the case's path to the Supreme Court -- and to a Supreme Court victory -- will most likely become even more difficult. Of course, that's assuming that Trump's eagerness to pull out of the Paris Agreement (2015's historic international commitment to actually do something about climate change) is an indication of his overall policy on climate change, which, with the exception of a few troubling tweets, hasn't really been outlined.

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But if they can get to the Supreme Court, Juliana has the potential to be a giant piece of the climate change solution we need. It could be at least part of the answer to the question of how to sustain a planet that's livable for our children, and, incredibly, it's our children and young adults who are getting us there. 

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