It is a significant legal ruling in what has been described as the “most important lawsuit on the planet right now”.
On Friday last week, a Magistrate at the federal District Court in Eugene, Oregon, decided in favor of 21 young Americans who are bringing a landmark legal climate case “on behalf of future generations” against the US federal Government as well as the fossil fuel industry.
The stakes are high. Three fossil fuel trade associations called the case “a direct, substantial threat to [their] businesses.”
The Court’s ruling is being seen as a major victory for the 21 plaintiffs who are unusual in part due to their age: they are all between 8-19. The so-called god-father of climate science, Dr James Hansen, is also a plaintiff.
One of the plaintiffs is 16 year-old Victoria Barrett: “The future of our generation is at stake. I want to do what I love and live a life full of opportunities,” she said.
Barrett added: “I want the generation that follows to have the same chance. I absolutely refuse to let our government’s harmful action, corporate greed, and the pure denial of climate science get in the way of that.”
The plaintiffs are suing the Government for violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property, and their right to essential public trust resources, by permitting, encouraging, and otherwise enabling continued exploitation, production, and combustion of fossil fuels.
They argue that the Government and fossil fuel industry have known for the last fifty years that have known that carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels causes climate change, but that they carried on drilling regardless.
The Judge, Thomas Coffin characterized the case as an “unprecedented lawsuit” addressing “Government action and inaction” resulting “in carbon pollution of the atmosphere, climate destabilization, and ocean acidification.”
In allowing the case to proceed, Judge Coffin wrote: “The debate about climate change and its impact has been before various political bodies for some time now. Plaintiffs give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society”.
The Plaintiffs’ attorney Philip Gregory was ecstatic at the verdict, saying: “This decision is one of the most significant in our nation’s history. The Court upheld our claims that the federal government intensified the danger to our plaintiffs’ lives, liberty and property.”
Gregory added that the “next step is for the Court to order our government to cease jeopardizing the climate system for present and future generations. The Court gave America’s youth a fair opportunity to be heard.”
Kelsey Juliana, a plaintiff from Eugene, Oregon reacted to the judgement by saying that “this decision marks a tipping point on the scales of justice. Youth voices are uniting around the world to demand that Government uphold our constitutional rights and protect the planet for our and future generations’ survivability.”
Juliana added: “This will be the trial of the century that will determine if we have a right to a livable future, or if corporate power will continue to deny our rights for the sake of their own wealth”.