21 young people sue the US government for lack of action on climate change

Written by Robert Gracin who is a former intern at One Young World.  He is studying Social Relations and Policy at Michigan State University.

On 29 October, 2018, 21 young Americans will move forward with their lawsuit against the United States federal government.  The youth are suing the government on the basis that it is violating the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.  The plaintiffs of the case maintain that they have a constitutional right to a climate capable of supporting human life, and that the government has a “trustee” responsibility to maintain the atmosphere free of “substantial impairment.” Their goal is to push the government to draft, and then execute, a comprehensive plan to dramatically reduce US emissions using the full panoply of federal authority.


The young plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States will be headed to court for an October trial. Photo credit: Robin Loznak

The youth are working with Our Children’s Trust’s co-lead counsel Julia Olsen, creating a spectacle that will be the first time a U.S. court has acknowledged the constitutional right to a safe climate. The case will be heard by United States District Court Judge Ann Aiken, who recognized “the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life.”

22 year old Kelsey Juliana is one of the many co-plaintiffs in the suit, and started her career in activism at the age of 14 when she sued the Governor of her home state of Oregon.  “As someone who is a young person and has tried engaging in government under the voting age and then as someone who has also voted now that I’m 22, I see this case as being an incredible opportunity for young people to feel empowered and be represented in front of their government, utilizing the core systems.” 

19 year old co-plaintiff Victoria Barrett has been advocating for climate change education in New York City schools as well as wind energy implementation  since she was 16 “my whole life I’ve just been in boxes of people who aren’t listened to: black, latinx, femme, queer. But the fact is, as a young activist I couldn’t vote for most of the activism I was doing.  That means that council members and legislators had no vested interest in listening to me. There had to be another route that I could take so that I could put the actual climate facts in front of politicians and have them have to address it.”


Mary Robinson and Maeve Higgins

This story is featured in Episode 1 of Mothers of Invention, a new podcast launched last week with comedian Maeve Higgins and former President of Ireland, and One Young World Counsellor, Mary Robinson. The podcast at the intersection of climate and gender highlights  feminist progressive solutions to climate threats.