Kids take a stand for climate change Teenage environmental activist Aji Piper, 15, holds up a tee shirt he was symbolically presenting to Bill Gates as he stands with Wren Wagenbach, 14, right, and Lara Fain, 13 and other youth after a rally in Seattle. The three are among eight youth activists who petitioned Washington state last year to adopt stricter science-based regulations to protect them against climate change. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Kids take a stand for climate change
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They can't vote yet, but dozens of young people want a say in the planet's future. So minors nationwide have been suing states and the federal government in recent years.  They want to push action on climate change.
 
They say their generation will bear the brunt of global warming.  And, that government at every level has a responsibility to protect natural resources, including the atmosphere, as a "public trust" for future generations.
 
The Oregon-based nonprofit Our Children's Trust has been leading efforts to file lawsuits or administrative petitions in every state and against the federal government. Some of the youth-led cases have been dismissed.  Others are pending in states including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Oregon.
 
"None of them have gotten to the finish line," said Michael Gerrard. He is a professor and director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University. "It's an uphill climb. The U.S. courts have so far not wanted to set climate policy."
 
Other experts say it's unclear how a state can combat a global problem.
 
In Seattle, eight activists between ages 10 and 15 petitioned Washington state last year.  They want the state to adopt stricter science-based regulations to protect them against climate change. The case has been moving through a state court.
 
"We're the ones who have to live with it if the oceans are acidic and the planet is 5 degrees warmer," said Gabriel Mandell, 13.  He is an eighth-grader and plaintiff in the case. "The snowpack is melting. Ocean is acidifying. The Earth is warming. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong. And we need to fix it."
 
Mandell and other youths represented by the Western Environmental Law Center argue that Washington state has failed to reduce carbon emissions based on the best available science. They say the government has violated its duties under the state constitution and the legal principle called the public trust doctrine.  The doctrine requires the government to protect shared resources.
 
The state said in court documents that the Washington Department of Ecology was working on adopting a rule to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
 
"Climate change is the most important environmental problem," said Stu Clark, Washington's air quality program manager. "We need to do whatever we can. We are doing what we can with what we have."
 
Nationwide, the cases need to pass certain legal hurdles. Those include determining that the public trust doctrine applies to the Earth's atmosphere or that the children have standing to sue. The cases have cleared some hurdles but not all, said Gerrard.
 
"I don't think this litigation is going to be successful because climate change is a global problem.  And it's not clear what a state could do," added Richard Stewart.  He is a law professor at New York University. "A state could do certain things. But it can only make an infinitesimal contribution" to a global problem.
 
In Oregon, two Eugene teens are appealing after a state judge rejected their petition in May. The judge ruled that Oregon's public trust doctrine does not apply to the atmosphere, water, beaches and shorelines.
 
On August, 21 youths across the country sued the federal government. They claimed that approval of fossil fuel development has violated the fundamental right of citizens to be free from government actions that harm life, liberty and property.
 
The EPA did not comment on specifics of the lawsuit.  But it said in a statement that President Obama and the agency have been taking action to "give our kids and grandkids the cleaner, safer future they deserve."
 
Aji Piper is a 15-year-old Seattle high school sophomore. He is a plaintiff in that case and the one in Washington state.
 
"The government isn't doing the best to assure that we have the best quality of life," he said. "It holds more urgency for us. Our future is at hand."
 
The Washington case has gone the farthest because a judge in King County Superior Court will be hearing arguments on the petition's merits, rather than on a procedural or jurisdictional issue, said Julia Olson. She is executive director for Our Children's Trust.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can kids make a stronger argument than adults?
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COMMENTS (38)
  • aidanp-jac
    11/16/2015 - 05:21 p.m.

    The article is fascinating because of how many people are standing up for global warming.I think that we should start walking places and not driving in cars that pollute the air with chemicals like carbon dioxide and other harm full chemicals.If we don't do something the Earth is going to warm up and instead of a ice age it's going to be a long heat wave.

  • justinw-969174-
    11/17/2015 - 01:01 p.m.

    I think we should start carpooling instead of having everyone taking different cars.

  • roberto-ver
    11/17/2015 - 01:33 p.m.

    I think that is a really good idea that kids are making the Earth a better place. Earth is being destroyed and we should do something about it. And kids are by planting trees and other plants and that is wonderful.

  • Eugene0808-YYCA
    11/17/2015 - 09:40 p.m.

    I think this is cool because kids are now taking a stand against climate change. This is good because this may help adults think about what they can do. Global leaders have to do something.
    How can kids make a stronger argument than adults?
    Answer: Kids can make a stronger argument than adults because they are the ones who are going to live through the effects of climate change.

  • emilyd-mci
    11/18/2015 - 11:42 a.m.

    These kids took a very brave stand. I can't believe they got into trouble for it. I mean come on!

  • seana-lam
    11/18/2015 - 02:20 p.m.

    I enjoy reading this article because it shows that people care about the environment and are thinking of the future. Pollution is a major problem and I'm glad these teenagers are standing up and addressing it.

  • ayeayemu-eri
    11/19/2015 - 02:56 a.m.

    Kids can make a strongr argument than adults if they try harder to involve in doing activities of climate change in their communities.

  • cadancea-ter
    11/19/2015 - 03:36 p.m.

    Good job most people/kids dont stand up because.... i wouldnt im glad that theres kids that do and will so good job kids :)

  • madelinew-1-bar
    11/19/2015 - 09:56 p.m.

    I think kids can make stronger arguments than adults because the choices adults make today will affect us kids tomorrow. We're the next generation, so we should be able to make our world better so when it's our turn to make the tough decisions, the decisions won't be as hard and the world won't be as bad. All throughout the article, it continuously says that kids are the next generation and that we'll be the ones who must live with the bad decisions made by adults now.
    I like this article. I've been wanting to speak up and help with this problem too, so it makes me glad that other kids are trying to take a stand.

  • olgan-4-bar
    11/20/2015 - 01:39 a.m.

    Kids can make a stronger argument than adults because they are more concerned about how the Earth will be like in 30 years when they are still alive and have longer to live while adults have completed their lives. " their generation will bear the brunt of global warming ". The adults currently don't pay that much attention to global warming because consequences will only appear in the future yet the future are these kids. They don't want their childhood and adult life to be ruined because of global warming. Also it is better for publicity. I think these kids are very brave to put so much effort into this particular subject. It is amazing to me how theu are trying to make a change for all future generation people.

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