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
Lexile

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 to push action on climate change.
 
They say their generation will bear the brunt of global warming.  And, that government at every level has an obligation 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 the ages of 10 and 15 petitioned Washington state last year 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, which 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, such as establishing 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, the professor.
 
"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, 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 alleged 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 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, 15, a Seattle high school sophomore, 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, 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 (40)
  • lilyg-2-bar
    11/16/2015 - 11:04 p.m.

    Kids can make a stronger argument on climate change than adults because they are the generation that will have to deal with it in years to come. "It holds more urgency for us. Our future is at hand." Kids explain why they want to take control of the situation because it will affect them later. I think this is interesting because I am this generation and I didn't know some kids are so concerned for what is to come with climate change.

  • taylorl-3-bar
    11/20/2015 - 02:23 a.m.

    Kids can make a stronger argument than adults by standing up for what they believe in, such as climate change and many other things. I chose this article because I agree that all kids should stand up for what they know is right, and I should too.

  • meaganw.-tay
    11/30/2015 - 09:17 a.m.

    Why do kids have to be the ones to take a stand?

  • tatumh.-tay
    11/30/2015 - 09:18 a.m.

    Kids can change the world in so many ways and helping are environment is a great these kids know that they need to help the situation because they are the next generation

  • masons.-tay
    11/30/2015 - 09:20 a.m.

    Kids make more of a deal because the climate change would effect their environment. When the adults now, are gone its up to the new adults to solve the problems, when they could've solved the problem before hand then trying to now. They can solve the problems for future generations and generations to come.

  • gracih.-tay
    11/30/2015 - 09:21 a.m.

    Great article with lots of info. I think its awesome that children are doing what they can to help further the environment! Its amazing that kids between the ages of 10 and 15 are standing up to the states and doing what's right to see protect the environment !????

  • nylej.-tay
    11/30/2015 - 09:22 a.m.

    Kids don't know how the federal government works.

  • taylorh.-tay
    11/30/2015 - 09:22 a.m.

    It was a great story about the kid wanting to be apart of their government and them trying to make a differents in the stand for climate change.The kid made A very reasonable action by fight!!

  • madilynm.-tay
    11/30/2015 - 09:22 a.m.

    They can push themselves really hard and keep on protesting their point where the judges will understand and give up their argument.

  • lawsonl.-tay
    11/30/2015 - 09:22 a.m.

    I think that it is about time that we start to try to change the world for the better. We need to start right away so future generations have a safer not so harmful place to live.

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