Juliana v. U.S.: A healthy planet  –  worthy cause or a right?

Credit: Pixabay

by Ivanna Patton

The debate on climate change in the U.S. is taking an unexpected turn. New questions are being raised, not about whether a healthy climate is a cause the government should support, but rather a human right they must defend.

Twenty-one youths, in conjunction with Earth Guardians, say it’s a human right, and have sued the U.S government. Their case, Juliana v. U.S., has been pretty promising so far. Since its inception in 2015, it’s already become one of the most widely discussed lawsuits in the history of the environmental movement.

On Monday, December 11th, at 10 a.m., the excitement will continue as the young environmentalists appear before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. The attorneys for both sides will present brief oral arguments on whether the Trump administration should be allowed a temporary stay or have to proceed to trial.

The plaintiffs argue that the U.S. government’s actions contributing to climate change have violated the youngest generations’ constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property–and failed to protect essential trust resources.

With the support of the Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, the case has worked its way up to the higher courts after the fossil fuel industry, having joined voluntarily as a co-defendant, failed twice in its attempt to have the case dismissed. Both attempts were dismissed by the lower courts. U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken in her ruling stated, “Exercising my ‘reasoned judgment’, I have no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.

Kelsey Juliana (center) around the time she first sued the Governor of Oregon (2012).   Photo courtesy of : Sam Beebe, Creative Commons license 2.0

Why I think it’s a good idea:

To me, this lawsuit is a ray of hope for the climate change movement that pierces through the usual “we’re doomed; get in the bunker” narrative. It shows the public that many communities, lawyers, and judges care about our future and choose to stand firm behind the law, against pressures from the fossil fuel industry and the federal government.

Furthermore, unlike other environmental lawsuits where the survival of frameworks have been at the mercy of Congress (think Obama’s Clean Power Plan), Juliana v. U.S. goes straight for the jugular: constitutional rights. Should the youth succeed, the court-ordered remedies would be safe from being amended legislatively or by executive order.

If the lawsuit prevails it could also mean that we see huge strides at the national policy level and reparations for the past fifty years of damage. As redress, the plaintiffs are proposing the government take inventory of CO2 emissions and then stabilize the climate system by phasing out fossil fuels and removing excessive CO2 from the atmosphere.

Imagine if these mandated actions were nailed down with powerful, long-lasting legislation. Mother Earth would finally receive “health care” in the US. And maybe we could finally have some peace of mind about our environmental safety – and maybe even the fate of the polar bears.

Why this matters to me:

As a young person, I am in awe of how just twenty-one kids have shifted the national conversation on climate change. I’ve dreamed of some day enacting big change at the policy level. But while in high school? At the national level? The idea would have never occurred to me if it wasn’t for this case.

Take Kelsey Juliana (see photo), the Lead Plaintiff in this case. By the age of 18, she managed to sue the Governor of Oregon and walk across the country with the Great March for Climate Action. The progress she and the other 20 plaintiffs have made totally shatters my belief that I’m too young to be influential.

Organizations like Our Children’s Future offer us a way to plug into effective legislative action so we don’t have to wait our turn to steer the country toward a sustainable future. We can do it now!

About the Author

Ivanna was born and raised in San Diego and received degrees from UC Berkeley in Environmental Economics & Policy as well as Public Health. So far, she has chipped away at solving environmental issues from many angles through her work at international non-governmental organizations, startups and research projects. She joined SD350 in November 2017 to try out yet another angle: activism. Affirming the Cal legacy!

Further Reading:







Speak Your Mind