Last month, we reported on a story out of the Netherlands, where a group of citizens successfully sued their government for not taking ambitious enough action to combat climate change. On Tuesday, a group of young Americans from 8 to 19 years old brought a suit against the Obama Administration (including the President, Secretary of State John Kerry, the Departments of Energy, the Interior, Transportation, Agriculture, and Defense, and the Environmental Protection Agency).
The plaintiffs claim that, “Defendants have for decades ignored their own plans for stopping the dangerous destabilization of our nation’s climate system” and that the Administration has not acted despite their full knowledge of “the unusually dangerous risk of harm to human life, liberty, and property that would be caused by continued fossil fuel use and increased [carbon dioxide] emissions.”
The EPA has responded, claiming that it is acting with its full authority to mitigate the effects of climate change, but the Obama Administration has not yet issued a formal response to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit is filed with the help of the non-profit organization “The Children’s Trust”, based in Oregon, and public interest attorney Julia Olson, who has worked with 15-year-old lead plaintiff Xiuhtezcatl Martinez in his environmental activism since 2011.
The suit is ambitious in its reach, calling for a court order mandating the creation of a national emissions reduction plan that will get CO2 levels down to no more than 350 parts per million, the upper limit of safe concentrations according to many scientists. However, the plan will likely be met with push-back: Not only will it be difficult to achieve the 350 ppm goal without similar commitments from other top emitters, it would also require pulling carbon out of the atmosphere. Our atmosphere has already passed the grim milestone of 400 parts per million, and it continues to rise in concentration. Carbon sequestration can be as simple as planting many more trees and reducing deforestation, a tactic favored by the Indian government, or it can be as technical and expensive as literally sucking the CO2 out of the air and pumping it into tanks underground.
Olson is optimistic about the lawsuit, saying, “What we are providing is an opportunity for them to participate in the civic democratic process and go to the branch of government that can most protect their rights…It’s really important that the court step in and do their jobs when there’s such intense violation of constitutional rights happening”.