Kids take U.S. government to court for not addressing the dangers of climate change

On Tuesday, a federal court heard arguments in a case which could force the United States government to finally take climate change seriously and do something to rectify the problem.

Juliana vs. United States was filed in 2014 by 21 children and young adults who charge that the “government’s inaction on addressing climate change violated their constitutional right to life, liberty, and property.”

As CBS News first reported earlier this year, the “Juliana” in the case title is a remarkable young woman who is sick and tired of seeing her government ignore the growing threat from global climate change:

“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.”

Juliana also alleges that top officials in this country have known about the dangers of climate change for quite some time but failed to act:

“They admit that 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. And they don’t dispute that climate change is a national security threat and a threat to our economy and a threat to people’s lives and safety. They do not dispute any of those facts of the case.”

The government has repeatedly tried to have the case dismissed, but it’s closer than ever to moving forward to trial, and even has a powerfully ally in public health experts who recently published an op-ed in the New England Journal of Medicine stating that climate change is:

The greatest public health emergency of our time. The adverse effects of continued emissions of carbon dioxide and fossil-fuel–related pollutants threaten children’s right to a healthy existence in a safe, stable environment.”

And as reports, 80 physicians and scientists and 15 health organizations have also filed an amicus brief on behalf of the young plaintiffs that lays out exactly how climate change negatively impacts young people’s health:

“Air pollution drives absenteeism from school, affecting education. Increased exposure to wildfires is causing smoke damage, leading to more children being hospitalized for asthma exacerbations. Incidents of Lyme disease are on the rise for children between 5 and 9. Extreme heat-related injuries of teenage athletes rose by 134 percent between 1997 and 2006.”

Even if the case isn’t cleared to move forward, it has helped spark a much-needed debate on just how much harm is being done not only to the planet, but also to some of the most vulnerable people who inhabit it. If children are indeed the future, what kind of world are we leaving to them?

Featured Image Via Lorie Shaull/Wikimedia Commons

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Andrew Bradford

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