Kids Take on the US Government in David vs. Goliath Court Battle over the Environment
In the words of the great novelist, poet, environmentalist and farmer Wendell Berry, we must act as “a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.” A group of 20 children, ages 8 – 19, seem to be putting Berry’s words into action. They are currently suing the US government on the assertion that: Young people and unborn generations are being discriminated against when it comes to the U.S. propagation of climate change.
The children who are currently suing the US government are backed by the environmental advocacy group, Our Children’s Trust. Our Children’s Trust asserts on its website that it is: “Leading the frame changing, youth-driven, global climate recovery campaign to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate.”
The case that the group of 20 children have brought before the Federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon (OR), presents a new approach to environmental advocacy that is fighting climate change.
On April 8th, 2016, US Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin of Eugene’s Federal District Court agreed to hear the children’s case. The main points that the children assert in the case include:
- The US government has known for decades that CO2 pollution has caused climate change and failed to take necessary actions to curtail fossil fuel emissions.
- The actions or lack of action taken by the US Government and its agencies has contributed to increased CO2 pollution through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation and exportation.
- The actions of the US government have made it extremely difficult for current and future generations of children to protect their vital natural systems and maintain a livable world.
- The US government’s actions or lack of action infringes on children’s rights to life and liberty.
Judge Coffin’s agreement to hear the children’s argument upheld their claims (supported by the 5th and 9th amendments) that our government is denying them protections afforded to previous generations by favoring the short-term economic interests of certain citizens. Furthermore, Judge Coffin upheld the youth plaintiffs’ assertion of violations under the public trust doctrine, ruling that there is a federal public trust, and the plaintiff’s claims deserve acknowledgement.
As mentioned above, this case is an unprecedented lawsuit in that it holds the US government accountable for its action, or inaction, that has contributed to global climate change, thereby effecting the current and future generations of children on this planet. While the case has not gone to trial yet, the fact that Judge Coffin has agreed to allow this case to proceed is a significant victory for the plaintiff, and ultimately for the future generations that we are currently borrowing this planet from.
For more information regarding this case, check out these links: