Twenty-one kids and teenagers sued the federal government on Wednesday, arguing that inaction on climate change is a violation of their right to life, liberty and property. President Obama and his administration must immediately act to rebalance the earth, and protect it for the benefit of all Americans both now and in the future, the lawsuit demands.
As a legal matter, the merits of the kids’ argument will now be weighed by a judge in the U.S. district court overseeing Eugene, Oregon. But dangerous, man-made global warming is already established science, and kids in the United States are already suffering, the lawsuit tries to make clear. Here are some of the “youth plaintiffs'” stories, shared with permission of Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit that compiled the case.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 15-year-old climate activist from Boulder, Colorado, and an "indigenous, environmental, eco hip-hop artist," as he told msnbc earlier this year. He’s also a member of Obama’s youth council, and a three-time speaker at the United Nations. He's been profiled in Rolling Stone, and some of his fans have started calling him “the Anti-Bieber.”
Martinez “suffers harm to his spiritual and cultural practices” as a result of the U.S. government’s support of fossil fuels, and the climate change that results, the lawsuit alleges. That’s partly because Martinez is of Aztec descent, and his culture demands honor and respect for the earth. But the lawsuit also alleges that the setting for these sacred rituals has been burnt, dried, flooded, infested, and thrashed to the brink of destruction.
Zealand Bell is an 11-year-old from Eugene, Oregon, and one of eight plaintiffs from the state. Their stories share a theme of poorer health, less opportunity for recreation, and concern for the future of their food and water supply. Bell, for instance, has canceled or curtailed rafting trips with his family as a result of climate change-related heat waves, the lawsuit alleges. He’s also lost time for biking, soccer and basketball.
But perhaps the most upsetting aspect of his allegations relate to health and economic well-being. Bell suffers from allergies, which rise with pollen counts, which scientists say are tied to climate change. His mother relies on seasonal work at the Williamette Pass ski resort, but last year there was no work, because there was almost no snow, and therefore no ski season in that area.
Avery McRae is another Oregonian, a 10-year-old from Eugene. She’s a water-lover who likes to visit lakes and rivers throughout the state. This summer, however, she hasn’t been able to find as much of that kind of fun, the lawsuit says. The alleged cause: drought and heat. Some waterways are shriveled and others are clotted with green algae. “It’s, like, really gross to swim in them,” McRae told msnbc.
Levi Draheim is the youngest plaintiff, an 8-year-old from Indialantic, Florida. His allegations are also some of the most severe. He suffers the drought and heat that many of the other plaintiffs allege. But because his childhood home is on a barrier island, he lives in fear of storms as well. Climate change, the lawsuit argues, has already fouled best part of Draheim’s home, the once-pristine beaches and lagoons that decorate the area.
In the last few years, he’s noticed a “seaweed invasion,” a sulfurous tide of sargassum that rots on shore and sends a spoiled egg smell wafting over visitors. The Indian River Lagoon is already a no-go zone for Draheim, because of the what the lawsuit suggests is an uptick in climate-related bacteria that devours flesh. He is similarly limited to certain safe areas of the Atlantic Ocean “due to an increase in flesh-eating bacteria.”
The White House did not respond to an msnbc request for comment on the lawsuit. A spokesperson for the Environmental Protection Agency, which is also named in the lawsuit, declined to address the specific merits of the lawsuit. But the agency officially agrees that the government has “a moral obligation to leave a healthy planet for future generations,” as the spokesperson put it.
She pointed to the White House’s Climate Action Plan — and the EPA’s controversial Clean Power Plan — as examples of remedies already underway. But another plaintiff attached to the lawsuit calls these efforts “ineffectual” and “demonstrably short" of what is needed.
James Hansen is a climate researcher who headed NASA’s Goddard’s Institute for Space Studies for more than 30 years and first warned Congress of global warming in 1988. His granddaughter is one of the plaintiffs, and Hansen himself — fresh from calling Obama’s climate change policies “practically worthless” — is listed as a “guardian for future generations.”
Late last month, he and 16 co-authors concluded that the glaciers of Greenland and Antarctica will melt 10-times faster than previous estimates, raising ocean levels 10 feet in as little as a half century. That research and years of additional work is comprises a literal “Exhibit A” in the lawsuit, which lays down the danger of global warming and the steps needed to bring the earth back into “energy balance.”
“A livable future includes the opportunity to drink clean water, to grow food, to be free from direct and imminent property damage caused by extreme weather events,” the Hansen section of the lawsuit argues. “Youth Plaintiffs are suffering both immediate and threatened injuries as a result of actions and omissions by the Defendants alleged herein and will continue to suffer life-threatening and irreversible injuries without the relief sought.”