Kids Face Rising Health Risks from Climate Change, Doctors Warn as Juliana Case Returns to Court

“The lawsuit is based on the public trust doctrine, a legal concept that the government holds resources such as land, water or fisheries in trust for its citizens. Climate litigators contend that the government is a trustee of the atmosphere, too, and the young plaintiffs argue that the government abrogated its duty to limit fossil fuel use and cut greenhouse gases, despite knowledge for decades that combustion of fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and changes the climate.” 

A federal appeals court hears arguments today as the government tries again to get the children’s climate lawsuit dismissed.

Young plaintiffs in the children's climate lawsuit are already feeling the effects of climate change. Credit: Robin Loznak
Young plaintiffs in the children’s climate lawsuit are already feeling the effects of climate change. Public health experts, including major health organizations and former U.S. surgeons general, warn the health risks will only get worse. Credit: Robin Loznak

The 21 children and young adults suing the federal government over climate change argue that they and their generation are already suffering the consequences of climate change, from worsening allergies and asthma to the health risks and stress that come with hurricanes, wildfires and sea level rise threatening their homes.

As their case heads back to court this week, some of the heaviest hitters in the public health arena—including 15 major health organization and two former U.S. surgeons general—are publicly backing them up.

Today’s children will feel the health impacts of climate change into adulthood if the federal government doesn’t transition away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, public health experts wrote in a letter published May 30 in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), echoing a larger court brief signed onto by major health organizations.

“More frequent and longer heat waves, increasing intensity of extreme weather events such as droughts and wildfires, worsening infectious-disease exposures, food and water insecurity, and air pollution from fossil-fuel burning all threaten to destabilize our public health and health care infrastructure,” the authors wrote.

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