Kids may not be able to vote, but they are finding other ways to hold government leaders accountable for their action (or inaction) on climate change. A federal judge in Oregon announced Thursday that an earlier lawsuit filed by 21 youth plaintiffs would be considered valid and proceed in court. The suit names President Barack Obama, the fossil fuel industry, and other federal agencies as defendants, charging that decision makers are violating the constitutional rights of future generations by failing to take adequate action to prevent worsening climate change.
The lawsuit’s plaintiffs, whose ages range from nine to 20, are organized under the name Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon nonprofit, and are partnered with Earth Guardians to fight for their future. The group filed their initial complaint over a year ago, in an historic milestone for youth environmental activism. Renowned climate scientist James Hansen is also backing the lawsuit, helping lend validity to the suit. Since the suit was filed in September 2015, many have questioned whether minors can defend their constitutional rights in the same way an adult might, plaintiffs named in the lawsuit have tried numerous tactics to talk their way out of responsibility, including denying that climate change is a man-made problem.
US District Judge Ann Aiken saw past their efforts and ruled Thursday, November 10, that the lawsuit was valid, affirming the rights of children to demand attention from government and business leaders. “Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it,” she wrote in the ruling.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is one of the young leaders of a growing movement that gives kids a voice concerning environmental destruction, and he has been the face of this lawsuit as well. “My generation is rewriting history. We’re doing what so many people told us we were incapable of doing: holding our leaders accountable for their disastrous and dangerous actions,” he said in a statement about the judge’s affirmative ruling. “This is going to be the trial of our lifetimes.”
Images via Earth Guardians