A group of 20 young people aged 8 to 19 have been given the green light by a US district judge to sue the federal government for its inaction on climate change.
“Plaintiffs argue defendants' actions violate their substantive due process rights to life, liberty, and property, and that defendants have violated their obligation to hold certain natural resources in trust for the people and for future generations,” their statement to the court reads.
By promoting the development and extraction of fossil fuels, funding and certifying fossil fuel infrastructure, providing subsidies and tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry, using fossil fuels in various agencies and departments (especially the defense department), and many more minor and major actions, the federal government has played an enormous role in accelerating climate change.
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Earth Guardians, the group behind the lawsuit, allege that these actions pose a threat to their current and future well-being and demand that action be taken to protect the planet.
The government tried to have the case dismissed in 2015, but were denied.
In the years ahead, climate change is expected to escalate dramatically. The emissions that are released today will take decades to have an effect on the environment, and since emissions have only increased in the past several years, severe effects are being cemented in the future. As the New Yorker wrote, “We are living in the climate of the past, but already we’ve determined the climate’s future.” To sidestep catastrophic damage to the planet, there needs to be a massive and immediate rejection of fossil fuels and an embrace of renewable energy.
The lawsuit could play a role in bringing about change. It’s an unprecedented move that could safeguard existing plans to combat climate change and put in place more measures to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
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And it comes at a significant time.
President-elect Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax and has vowed to reverse Obama’s efforts to protect the environment. As one of his first moves after being elected, Trump appointed Myron Ebell to lead the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency. Ebell is a fierce climate change denier who often represents the interests of the fossil fuel industry. He's known as "energy number 1" to the climate community.
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Despite this turn of events, all hope is not lost.
“Federal courts too often have been cautious and overly deferential in the arena of environmental law, and the world has suffered for it,” the judge wrote in her ruling. “This lawsuit is not about proving that climate change is happening or that human activity is driving it. For the purposes of this motion, those facts are undisputed.”
A trial date will be set in the near future