A lawsuit filed on behalf of 21 kids alleges the U.S. government knowingly failed to protect them from climate change. If the plaintiffs win, it could mean massive changes for the use of fossil fuels
Of all the cases working their way through the federal court system, none is more interesting or potentially more life changing than Juliana versus the United States. To quote one federal judge, “This is no ordinary lawsuit.” It was filed back in 2015 on behalf of a group of kids who are trying to get the courts to block the U.S. government from continuing the use of fossil fuels. They say it’s causing climate change, endangering their future and violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property. As we first reported earlier this year, when the lawsuit first began hardly anyone took it seriously, including the government’s lawyers, who have since watched the supreme court reject two of their motions to delay or dismiss the case. Four years in, it is still very much alive, in part because the plaintiffs have amassed a body of evidence that will surprise even the skeptics and have forced the government to admit that the crisis is real.
The case was born here in Eugene, Oregon, a tree-hugger’s paradise, and one of the cradles of environmental activism in the United States. The lead plaintiff, University of Oregon student Kelsey Juliana, was only five weeks old when her parents took her to her first rally to protect spotted owls. Today, her main concern is climate change, drought and the growing threat of wildfires in the surrounding Cascade Mountains.
Kelsey Juliana: There was a wildfire season that was so intense, we were advised not to go outside. The particulate matter in the smoke was literally off the charts. It was past severe, in terms of danger to health.
Steve Kroft: And you think that’s because of climate change.
Kelsey Juliana: That’s what scientists tell me.
It’s not just scientists. Even the federal government now acknowledges in its response to the lawsuit that the effects of climate change are already happening and likely to get worse, especially for young people who will have to deal with them for the long term.
“The government has known for over 50 years that burning fossil fuels would cause climate change. And they don’t dispute that we are in a danger zone on climate change.”
Steve Kroft: How important is this case to you?
Kelsey Juliana: This case is everything. This is the climate case. We have everything to lose, if we don’t act on climate change right now, my generation and all the generations to come.
She was 19 when the lawsuit was filed and the oldest of 21 plaintiffs. They come from ten different states and all claim to be affected or threatened by the consequences of climate change. The youngest, Levi Draheim, is in sixth grade. MORE