Essential California: Dire Warnings On Climate Change From The Federal Government

Representing the 21 young people is Our Children’s Trust, an NGO based in Eugene, Oregon, and the thrust of the suit is that the plaintiffs have a fundamental right to live in a world with a stable climate system. Their claim rests on a long-established legal principle called the public trust doctrine, which holds that certain common natural resources — including navigable waters and coastal shorelines — should be held in public trust for the benefit of present and future generations. A stable climate system, the young people contend, is one of those essential public trusts.

The suit argues that the federal government has for decades wilfully ignored the growing threat of global warming. Gus Speth — head of the Council on Environmental Quality under President Jimmy Carter, founder of the World Resources Institute, and former dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies — said in a 147-expert report accompanying the suit that, despite knowing the dangers, successive U.S. governments had utterly failed to rein in CO2 emissions.

“Defendants’ actions on the national energy system over the past 40 years are, in my view, the greatest dereliction of civic responsibility in the history of the Republic,” Speth wrote. “And it is worse today than ever. This shocking historical conduct, government malfeasance on a grand scale, has left current and future generations enormously vulnerable to substantial danger.”

The suit asks that the government create “a national remedial plan to phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric CO2.” The goal, the suit says, is “to stabilize the climate system and protect the vital resources on which Plaintiffs now and in the future will depend.”

One 19-year-old plaintiff, Nathan Baring of Fairbanks, Alaska, said in an interview, “Young people are the really big stakeholders in climate change. We will reel from the effects of decisions adults are taking right now. But we don’t have representation in government. I have been active [on climate change] for three years, but I haven’t had a chance to vote yet… The real reason for the lawsuit is to give us a seat at the table.”

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