Kids’ Climate Change Lawsuits Say No to a Future of “Damages, Death, and Destruction”

BY ON November 17, 2017

Kids Want Climate Justice rally

In a defiant NO to a future of illness and climate catastrophe, young people are suing federal and state officials for knowingly taking actions that will increase the dangerous impacts of climate change.

Pennsylvania Children Aim to Halt Federal Rollbacks of Climate Protections

In Pennsylvania, The Clean Air Council, and two children, are suing President Trump, EPA head Scott Pruitt, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry for rolling back climate protections such as the Clean Air Act.

According to the complaint, which calls out the Trump administration for relying on “junk science,”

“ 1. The United States Government’s current acts to roll back regulations and practices previously directed at addressing and minimizing the United States contribution to climate change will increase the frequency and severity of these extreme weather events and the dangers to Plaintiffs’ lives and a life-sustaining environment.

2. Through these acts, the Government is relying on junk science to wage a war on facts, data, and reliable principles and methods arising out of scientific, technical, and specialized knowledge. In doing so, Defendants have acted with reckless and deliberate indifference to the established clear and present dangers of climate change, knowingly increasing its resulting damages, death, and destruction.”

The two plaintiffs have already suffered the consequences of climate change. “S.B,” age seven, suffers from seasonal allergies, which cause recurrent nosebleeds and vomiting. Furthermore, the complaint notes that S. B.,

…loves to play sports, and increasing temperatures and extreme weather events caused by Defendants’ actions affect his athletic performance and ability to enjoy outdoor activities safely. As a result of the United States Government’s actions, S.B.’s allergy symptoms have been exacerbated and will continue to worsen as climate change becomes more severe. For example, S.B. needed to be hospitalized during Hurricane Irene in 2011.”

Eleven-year-old plaintiff, “B.B,” who suffers from asthma, already has adult-sized angst about the impact of climate change. According to the complaint,

“B.B. is passionate about protecting the environment, and experiences anxiety about the potentially irreversible impact of climate change on the planet and future generations, including his own children and grandchildren. Before moving to the greater Philadelphia area, B.B. resided in New York, and experienced the frightening impact of Super Storm Sandy and Hurricane Irene.”

The Clean Air Council and two young plaintiffs are asking the court to compel the Trump administration to halt

“… any rollbacks that increase the frequency and/or intensity of the life-threatening effects of climate change based on junk science in violation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to a life-sustaining climate system and the public trust doctrine…”

With its young plaintiffs contending that the Trump administration is violating their constitutional right to a stable environment, the action is taking a page from Juliana v. U.S.,  a federal lawsuit filed by Our Children’s Trust. Juliana’s 21 young plaintiffs go to court in February 2018. As Meg Ward, the group’s spokesperson told Reuters, 

“The Clean Air Council case is taking the legal theories pioneered in Juliana and applying them to a narrow set of facts related to specific rollbacks of the Trump administration.”

Sixteen Young Alaskans Sue their State for its Fossil Fuel Production

In addition to Juliana, Our Children’s Trust is also representing 16 young Alaskans, aged seven to twenty, in a climate change lawsuit filed in October 2017 against the State of Alaska, Governor Bill Walker, Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Larry Hartig, and five state agencies. The case, Sinnok v. Alaska, alleges that the defendants are violating plaintiffs’ constitutional rights by prioritizing fossil fuel production over their safety.

In fact, the impact of climate change, including rising seas, is not only erasing the young plaintiffs’ way of life, it is literally washing away the ground beneath their feet. As 19-year-old Esau Sinnok notes in a recent press release,

“Climate change is already harming, and threatens the very existence of my home village of Shishmaref and my native culture. Because of climate change, the island where my ancestors have lived for over 4,000 years is being eroded away into the sea. My children might not be able to see what life on Shishmaref once was. It’s time Alaska stop promoting fossil fuels at the expense of young people and start protecting our rights to a stable climate system.”

 The young plaintiffs are asking the court to protect their constitutional rights to a stable climate system not only by prohibiting the State from “further implementation of their Climate and Energy Policy,” but also that it order defendants to submit

“… an enforceable state climate recovery plan, which includes a carbon budget, to implement and achieve science-based numeric reductions of Alaska’s in-boundary and extraction-based emissions consistent with global emissions reductions rates necessary to stabilize the … climate system and protect the vital Public Trust Resources on which Youth Plaintiffs depend.”

Trending: Climate Change Lawsuits Filed in State Courts

The young plaintiffs in Sinnok aren’t the only ones heading to state court for relief from the impacts of climate change. Communities and environmental groups are also taking steps to protect themselves from its havoc through legal actions at the state level.

In addition to Sinnok, Our Children’s Trust has also filed litigation in Oregon and Colorado  state courts over creating an emissions plan, and fracking, respectively.

Five California communities are also suing fossil fuel companies in state court for climate-related damages.

As Sean Hecht, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA Law School told Climate Liability News,

“State courts may not be more sympathetic to the plaintiffs in climate cases, but filing cases in different states increases the chances of finding courts willing to extend climate liability.”

And, he notes,

“It gives them a chance to test different legal theories and demonstrate facts in different parts of the country.”

Photo credit: Laurie Shaull

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TOPICS: Activism, Alaska, Allergies, Asthma, California, Climate Change, Heat and Extreme Weather, Pennsylvania, Politics