Why ‘Climate Kids’ vs. Trump is no ordinary lawsuitTwo days after the election of Donald Trump, 21 plaintiffs aged 9-20 won a court ruling that may be just as important as that election in determining our future. As the world hurtles into climate catastrophe, the decision by Judge Ann Aiken in the federal district court in Oregon sets the stage for a momentous trial of our right to a stable climate – and the constitutional obligation of the United States government to protect that right.
Now President Donald Trump has been named lead defendant in the suit. Trump has not only denied the reality of climate change, he has also defied the authority of the courts to enforce other rights of persons – witness his claim in court that his travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries is “unreviewable.” The “climate kids” case Juliana v. United States is shaping up to be not only a historic trial of the culpability of the U.S. government for destruction of the earth’s climate, but of the power of courts to protect our rights.
“No ordinary lawsuit”
As Judge Aiken emphasized, “This is no ordinary lawsuit.” The youth’s suit, supported by the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, challenges decisions “across a vast set of topics” — decisions like “whether and to what extent to regulate C02 emissions from power plants and vehicles, whether to permit fossil fuel extraction and development to take place on federal lands, how much to charge for use of those lands, whether to give tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry, whether to subsidize or directly fund that industry, whether to fund the construction of fossil fuel infrastructure such as natural gas pipelines at home and abroad, whether to authorize new marine coal terminal projects.”
The climate kids assert that government decisions on these topics over many decades “substantially caused the planet to warm and the oceans to rise.” They draw a “direct causal line” between the government’s policy choices and “floods, food shortages, destruction of property, species extinction, and a host of other harms.”