Adolescent Climate Change Activists Sue Obama Administration
by Elizabeth Muse on Friday, December 11th, 2015
Fifteen-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh, along with 20 other youth activists, is suing the Obama administration over climate change. The lawsuit, filed by 21 young Americans ages 8 to 19, demands “a science-based climate recovery plan” and includes cutting carbon dioxide emission to a safe level (350 ppm) by the year 2100. The US is currently emitting around 398 ppm of carbon dioxide.
This lawsuit fights for climate justice: the promise of ensuring the rights of all people—including those in the future—to a stable environment. Those backing the lawsuit argue that the federal government promotes the use of fossil fuels, which contribute to climate change by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and thickening the layer of greenhouse gas, causing temperatures to climb. According to the website ourchildrenstrust.org, the lawsuit’s main premise is to combat these dangerous levels of carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is emitted from a whole slew of human activity including as production, transportation, and consumption. The youth are worried about not just the lives of future generations, but also their own lives, in a world that’s starting to heat up. Climate change is a clear challenge facing humanity today; top climate scientists continuously broadcast to the world that serious changes must occur to reduce the effects, and that they must occur quickly. This lawsuit came at a time right before talks in Paris, where world leaders, including President Obama, met to negotiate a global agreement on climate change.
The aforementioned website also states that, not surprisingly, big gas and oil companies are beginning to make efforts to oppose the lawsuit. A group representing many of these corporations, including ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell, has filed a motion asking to join the U.S. government in its opposition. The bases of their motion against the lawsuit are that the plaintiffs, the 21 children, do not have standing—a legal case of action—because climate change is not concrete. It is a “prediction of harm.” The conglomeration further dismisses the plaintiff’s case by arguing that climate change is an issue for Congress to tackle, not children. The company’s’ response, however, has only increased attention on the case, and arguably represents the fear the large corporations have in the event that the lawsuit could succeed.
One of the most notable voices in support of the lawsuit comes from James Hansen, the former head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a notable climate scientist. In a November press release detailed on slate.com, Hansen shared his support. “It is the fundamental duty of our government,” Hansen said, “to ensure that this is done in time to avert catastrophic sea level rise and other intolerable climate damage.” He then goes on to condemn the large companies who oppose the case. “I am not surprised that fossil fuel corporations seek to derail this case,” Hansen begins, “but the fundamental rights of my granddaughter and future generations to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness must prevail.”
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