The Youth Climate Strikers aren't just taking to the streets - they're also taking governments to court
The all-round strengthening of activist skills going on in the youth climate movements is thrilling. For example, here’s two instances of young activists confidently using the law, compelling authorities and corporations to admit and repay for their climate damage in the past, and to take responsibility for future generations also.
First is this from Democracy Now, interviewing Kelsey Juliana, lead plaintiff in Juliana v. United States, the landmark youth climate lawsuit against the U.S. government:
KELSEY JULIANA: This lawsuit is a constitutional climate change case against the U.S. federal government, filed by 21 courageous young individuals in 2015. At the time, the youngest was 8, and the oldest, myself, was 19. This case looks at the actions of the federal government for the past several decades of helping to perpetuate the climate crisis by continuing to fund the fossil fuel economy, endangering the lives of all citizens, but especially disproportionately harming the lives of young citizens and future generations.
So we’re looking at the ways that the federal government has very knowingly and willfully funded this climate crisis. And the way that they are continuing to stall and delay our climate case shows you exactly their priorities, their priorities of their own self-interests and continuing this greedy fossil fuel economy rather than ensuring the constitutional rights of life, liberty and property to all citizens, especially young.
AMY GOODMAN: You spoke in front of the Supreme Court, Kelsey Juliana, on Wednesday. What did you say?
KELSEY JULIANA: In front of the Supreme Court, you know, the message that I felt was actually a message of mourning. I’m 23 years old, and I’ve been calling myself a climate activist since I was 10 years old. You know, over half my lifetime, I feel like I’ve been trying to make an impact, make an impact. And it’s incredible that right now we’re in this moment where 300,000 people in one nation alone have marched for climate action. And they’re followed by the world over, who are really taking to the streets and saying, “This is our time, and our rights and our lives matter.”
But on Wednesday, you know, it is a period of mourning, that we are having to do this, that we are asking children to literally beg for their lives. To have to fight for the security of a future is a huge shame on all political leaders, present and past. And it’s unfortunate that young people and that children are having to be in this position. But today it’s also very exciting that we are fueling that fire, and that leaders, the school board of New York and others are allowing young children to champion their lives.
And secondly, from The Economist, here’s an extract from the winning essay in their Open Future competition, Larissa Parker, a law student at McGill University, which argues we can help solve climate change with a new legal framework:
Although climate litigation is becoming a new front for climate action, with hundreds of cases arising around the world, they are limited in scope. Today, for the most part, only current generations have legal standing to sue; and to do so, they have to prove the impacts that they have experienced or are experiencing.
This is problematic in the context of climate change because the effects of greenhouse-gas emissions take decades to manifest themselves. This renders it incredibly difficult to contest today’s polluting activities as their impacts have not been felt yet. It is also why governments feel little pressure to meet their commitments or take strong action.
I came to law school with high hopes of changing this. One solution is to recognise the rights of future generations to a healthy environment, which would open the door for lawsuits on climate inaction and keep governments accountable to their commitments under international law.
If a government does not take sufficient action on climate change now, then it is not doing enough to prevent harm to future generations, thus violating their rights to a healthy environment.
The problem arises from the legal standing of future generations—or lack thereof, for they are generally not currently considered identifiable individuals under the law. Although it is easy to grasp their fundamental interest in a healthy environment, the law is reluctant to grant them recognition.
This is because most of those individuals have not been born yet. How or when they will experience the impacts of climate change remains undetermined. Nevertheless, they represent our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
It is conceivable that, at the very least, we have a duty to ensure they inherit the planet in a condition that is comparable to ours.