Time to make the planet great again

Sophie Mak

Failure by the Trump administration to prevent a climate change lawsuit from going to trial shows that people can sue the government over their constitutional right to a healthy environment

Sophie Mak |

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Young adults can take meaningful action to fight against emissions and global warming

It’s been proven again and again that all of us, no matter our age, our gender, our race, have the power to effect positive change in the world.

Earlier this month, a US federal judge rejected a Trump administration move to dismiss a major climate change lawsuit and prevent it from going to trial. The case will pit 21 people, aged between nine and 21, against the US government.

The children and the young adults are aware that the administration is undermining their future through its inaction to combat global warming. The plaintiffs claim that the government violated their constitutional rights by promoting the production of fossil fuels which release greenhouse gases. These emissions, they say, have resulted in a “dangerous destabilising climate system” that severely harms the environment and threatens the survival of future generations. They also argue that the government violated the public trust doctrine which states that it is responsible for protecting public resources, such as land and water – or in this case the climate system – for public use.

According to Julia Olson, the executive director of advocacy group Our Children’s Trust, the judge made a “very significant” decision to “allow [them] to keep moving forward to trial” eventually.

The lawsuit, which was originally filed against the Obama administration, has significant implications. Irrespective of whether the young plaintiffs win the case, the very fact that the court is forcing the government to enter into trial shows that citizens do have a constitutional right to a clean and sustainable environment and healthy climate. This could set a precedent for a new type of environmental litigation and could force the government to face serious environmental issues head on and to act on climate change.

The lawsuit has gained more prominence, especially after US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Deal, because he wants to “put American workers first”.

Youngsters can be powerful activists, and the plaintiffs in this case understand this and acknowledge their power. One of the activists, Kiran Oommen, 19, said he joined the movement to give a voice to his generation. “We have little or no representation in the government, yet the effects of climate change will affect us more than anyone else,” he says. “This is a way we can speak for ourselves and stand up for our future.” Another activist, Aji Piper, 16, adds: “Once you start involving children, people start listening more.”

There are reports about extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and heatwaves, almost every day, and there will be more suffering in the future, unless steps are taken to remedy the situation. Young people around the world should follow in the footsteps of their American counterparts and fight to prevent global warming.

According to legal experts, the US lawsuit is unlikely to succeed. “The federal judiciary of the United States is not yet ready, by and large, to apply federal common law public trust doctrine and substantive due process to climate change,” they say.

However, we should see it this way – the case already overcame its biggest challenge when the motion to dismiss it was denied. This means the court indicated that the plaintiffs can sue the government over their constitutional right to a healthy environment.

I believe this is a big milestone and proves that children can be a force for change. Not only does it force the government to “make the planet great again”, it also emboldens the public to strive for what they believe is right and contribute to the betterment of society and the environment.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne