Young people across the United States are suing the federal government en masse for destroying their futures. They're claiming the feds' bungling of a crucial issue is a violation of their constitutional rights.
The issue? Look at these stunning images of California, where 86% of the state's mountain snow pack has dissipated in a single year.
Source: Washington Post
In 2011, thousands of young people supported by 30+ environmental and constitutional professors filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Commerce, Energy and the Interior. Individual actions have been filed in all 50 states. All allege that government inaction on climate change violates their rights under the Public Trust Doctrine, which obligates the government to protect resources for the public's reasonable use.
The federal suit has already made it to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. circuit and is part of a nationwide legal campaigned designed to draw attention to America's utter failure to mobilize against human-induced climate change. Though oral arguments were set for May 2, the court ordered the case to be decided based on written briefing. Decisions on the lawsuit are pending.
13-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, a member of plaintiff Kids vs. Global Warming, told Al Jazeera America that "climate change is the biggest issue of our time."
"It's not every day you see young people getting involved politically, but the climate crisis is changing all that. Every generation from here on out is going to be affected by climate change," he added.
NASA projections of climate change under various projected levels of atmospheric carbon. Source: NASA
"The welfare of youth is directly affected by the failure of government to confront human-made climate change, and unless the government acts immediately to rapidly reduce carbon emissions ... youth will face irrevocable harm: the collapse of natural resource systems and a largely uninhabitable nation," the complaint reads. "The 'best' science tells us that because of our nation’s inaction we now have a very narrow window of time to act ... Any more delay risks irreversible and unacceptable consequences for Plaintiffs and generations to come."
"Unless action is undertaken without further delay, the continuing increase of atmospheric CO2 will drive Earth's climate system toward and past points of no return, with disastrous consequences for young people and future generations."
The suit says that if the federal government acts now to establish a plan to reduce atmospheric carbon to less than 350 ppm, which would limit surface warming to 1 degree celsius above pre-industrial temperatures, avoiding the worst of the impact would be possible.
"The scale of potential harm is almost inconceivable," says the University of Oregon's Mary Wood, who helped engineer the lawsuit. She added that "There is a constitutionally-based, inalienable right to have essential resources protected for survival."
Manufacturers have already hit back, saying that the suit "would have profound consequences for the Nation's economic development and productivity, social policies, security interests, and international standing." They also insist that "public trust doctrine remains a matter of state law" and thus the lawsuit is invalid.
Though various courts have thrown out the lawsuits and plaintiffs have been forced to file a motion to reconsider with the D.C. District Court, that's arguably not the point. The young people represented in the suit are demanding action and garnering attention, hoping to educate the public about climate change. And that's crucial, seeing as just over one-third of Americans worry a "great deal" about this issue that could threaten to deeply impact their lives.