Feature

15 August 2018

Meet the ‘climate kids’ suing the US government over global warming

They claim inaction on climate change has blighted their future – just one of many challenges now hitting the courts. And they might just succeed

Some of the 21 young people taking the US government to court
Some of the 21 young people taking the US government to court over climate change

Robin Loznak/ZUMA Wire/Alamy Live News

HIGH-SCHOOL student Aji Piper goes snowboarding in the mountains behind Seattle – but for how much longer, he wonders. Miko Vergun fears her native Majuro atoll in the Marshall Islands in the Pacific could soon be under water. In Alaska, Nathan Baring’s friends can no longer hunt for seals because the ice is too thin. Nine-year-old Levi Draheim, who lives in low-lying, coastal Florida, says of his president: “It’s scary having someone in the White House who doesn’t believe in climate change.”

All four are among 21 young people – self-described “climate kids” – who will head for a district court in Eugene, Oregon, in October. Over several weeks, they will face off against federal government lawyers. The plaintiffs will accuse the Trump administration and its predecessors of decades of deceit and wrong-headedness in handling climate change, and will seek an order compelling Washington to devise a plan that will halt and reverse it.

Suddenly, legal action over climate change is getting serious. The climate kids’ case is one of a rash of challenges this year, against governments and fossil fuel companies, in which citizens of various countries will try to get the legal system to reboot our response to the most pressing global problem of our time.

Climate-change litigation has been tried before, with mixed results. Eleven years ago, judges ruled that the federal Environmental Protection Agency had a duty to regulate emissions from motor vehicles, following a lawsuit brought by the state of Massachusetts and 11 others. …

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