Climate Corner: Youth vs. government
Apr 16, 2022
Across the globe, youth are dissatisfied with their governments’ responses to the climate crisis. Recently, Lancet Planet Health published a report about the first large-scale investigation of climate anxiety in young people and its relationship with perceived government response. Ten thousand young people (ages 16-25) in ten countries were surveyed. The findings show climate anxiety and dissatisfaction with government responses are widespread in young people everywhere and this negatively impacts their daily lives. Another study published in a recent issue of Science shows an inter-generational inequality of climate change. This study determined the average six-year-old of today will endure many more environmental disasters than their grandparents. It was estimated children born in 2020 will experience a two- to seven-times increase in extreme events, particularly heat waves, compared with people born in 1960.
This issue of fairness across generations has “fueled” a surge of global climate protests led by youth as well as climate litigation filed on their behalf. Young people are taking their countries to court over their failure to address the climate crisis. All cases make the similar argument that the climate crisis compromised their basic rights to life, water and health. Research like that noted above help strengthen arguments in court for harms caused by governments. And there have been some victories!
In April of last year, German youth activists won a rewrite of the country’s emission laws after they argued the previous plan was insufficient. In Portugal, six young people are taking their country and 32 of the most polluting European governments to court over the climate change risks that threaten their health and future. The case filed in 2020 with the European Court of Human Rights has been fast-tracked and could see a ruling by next year.
Here in the U.S. youth climate crisis lawsuits have been filed in many states. A case filed in Montana had a recent victory. The constitutional climate lawsuit, Held v. State of Montana, filed March 13, 2020 by 16 youth from across the state, asserts that by supporting a fossil fuel-driven energy system which is contributing to the climate crisis, Montana is violating their constitutional rights to a clean and healthful environment; to seek safety, health, and happiness; and to individual dignity and equal protection of the law. The youth plaintiffs also argue the state’s fossil fuel energy system is degrading and depleting Montana’s constitutionally protected public trust resources, including the atmosphere, rivers and lakes, and fish and wildlife. On Aug. 4, 2021, in a historic decision, Judge Kathy Seeley ruled the youth plaintiffs could proceed to trial. Scheduled for Feb. 6-17, 2023, Held v. State of Montana will be the first ever children’s climate trial in U.S. history!
The groundbreaking constitutional climate lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, was filed Aug. 12, 2015. That complaint, filed by 21 youth aged 11-22, from different states and cultural backgrounds, asserts the U.S. government had willfully acted over six decades to create the climate crisis, thus endangering their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. Going up against evidence from climatologists, whistle blowers, scientific experts, and the testimonies of the plaintiffs, the government took extraordinary measures to get the case dismissed. But these empowered youth refused to back down. They are awaiting a ruling on their Motion for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint and the Motion to Intervene filed by 18 states. Regardless of the court’s decision, future generations have a right to a livable future and it is our moral duty to ensure those who come after us have clean air, water and a stable climate.
The monumental legal battle of these courageous youth against the world’s most powerful government is detailed in the film “YOUTH v GOV.” The movie follows the courageous young Americans suing to protect their constitutional rights to a stable climate and demanding a recovery plan that will stabilize the crisis they’ve inherited. Producer/Director, Christie Cooper, in addition to being a film maker, is a PhD scientist. In keeping with their Faith Climate Action Week theme of “Our children’s right to a livable future,” Interfaith Power and Light has an agreement with the filmmakers of “YOUTH v GOV” to make the documentary available for special screenings to faith communities.
The Green Sanctuary Committee of First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta will be hosting a virtual screening via Zoom April 21 at 7 p.m. Interested people must register in advance at https://tinyurl.com/2jrry85c to receive a confirmation email with a link to the screening.
Giulia Mannarino, of Belleville, is a member of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.