Children Sue Government Over Climate Change

November 17, 2015
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Victoria Barrett

Victoria Barrett discusses her participation in climate change lawsuit on The Weather Channel.

Although many of them cannot vote or drive a car, dozens have joined together to sue several state and federal governmental entities.  These young Americans are taking their passion for environmental protection to the courtroom.  An Oregon-based non-profit, Our Children’s Trust, is one organization that has helped lead the efforts.  In August, Our Children’s Trust assisted 21 young people in filing a federal suit in U.S. District Court against the President of the United States, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  They allege that the defendants’ actions, which include “allowing and promoting the exploration, extraction, development, transportation, export, import, and burning of fossil fuels” are a significant contributor of climate change.  They claim that such actions violate young Americans’ Fifth and Ninth Amendment rights.  The Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause protects citizens from government actions that jeopardize “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”  The Ninth Amendment states “the enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”  In other words, these young Americans claim that, although not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, other rights do exist, and one of them is “the right to be sustained by our country’s vital natural systems, including our climate system.” Other youths have separately brought suit against state governments.  Last week, Hallie Turner, a 13-year old girl, and her attorney, were in North Carolina Superior Court arguing that the state should be forced to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by at least 4% each year. According to INDY Week, Judge Michael Morgan promised to rule on the case by Thanksgiving.  Other young Americans are also speaking out. Victoria Barrett, a plaintiff in the case coordinated by Our Children’s Trust, spoke last week at a United Nation’s briefing entitled “Youth at the Forefront: Bridging the Gap between Climate Change and Climate Action.”  Perhaps complicating the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to block these legal maneuvers, and reported by the Guardian is the fact that newly uncovered documents suggest that ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company, knew as far back as 1981 of the connection between fossil fuel usage, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and rising global temperatures.  Despite this knowledge, they spent the last three decades promoting climate denial.  The New York Times reported last week that New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has begun an investigation of ExxonMobil.  TeenJury applauds these young Americans and believes their efforts confirm the importance of civics education.

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