The Planet Goes to Court: Youth Sue Over Climate Change

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In a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, 21 American youths are suing the U.S. government for inadequately handling human-caused climate change. Ranging from 9 to 20 years old, these youth claim that failure to not properly address global warming violates their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. They argue that the rising amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere threaten the survival of future generations. The lawsuit also asserts that the government violated the public trust doctrine, a legal concept grounded in ancient law that says the government is responsible for protecting natural resources such as land and water for public use.

The lawsuit originally targeted the Obama administration in 2016, but it is now aimed against the climate-skeptical Trump administration. The Trump administration has pushed back against the claim saying the children don’t have viable case.

Last November, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken allowed the case to proceed and turned away the Obama administration’s motion against the lawsuit. “I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society,” Judge Aiken said regarding the case.  She went on to say that “this lawsuit is not about proving that climate change is happening or that human activity is driving it. For purposes of this motion, those facts are undisputed.”

A letter written by the lawyers of the youths requested that all federal agencies and fossil fuel companies bring forth all their records relating to climate change. Fossil fuel companies attorney’s responded to the letter by saying the cost to retain all the witnesses and documents would be “enormous,” while the Trump team described the letter as “extraordinarily broad.”

Similar lawsuits have been won in Pakistan, Austria, and South Africa, and last year, a a Netherlands court ordered the government to reduce carbon emissions by a quarter within the next five years.

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