Kelsey Juliana, 18, is going above and beyond what most college freshmen would do to protect the environment.
Juliana, a native of Eugene, Oregon, who’s studying at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina, is suing Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and the state itself. She and co-plaintiff Olivia Chernaik, 14, claim that their government isn't doing enough to protect its current and future citizens from the effects of climate change.
"This could be a landmark decision on the question: Does government, as trustee over our essential natural resources, have to protect it from carbon pollution and the impacts of climate disruption?" Julia Olson, executive director of the nonprofit Our Children's Trust, and originator of a suite of youth-led lawsuits since 2011, told the Huffington Post.
Experts say Juliana and Chernaik’s lawsuit is the one to watch. Though the case was initially shot down by the Lane County Circuit Court in 2011, the lawsuit was resurrected in June 2014, when the Oregon Court of Appeals ordered the lower court to rule on whether or not the atmosphere is a public trust the state is obligated to protect. The appeals court reversed the lower court’s ruling and found that state decisions about natural resources are outside of the court’s authority.
Juliana and Chernaik’s lawsuit asks that the state of Oregon develops and implements a plan that will help reduce global emissions of carbon dioxide.
"It's going to take one brave, compassionate judge to speak on our behalf," said Juliana, who spent the fall walking across the country in the Great March for Climate Action.
Chris Winter, co-director of the Portland-based Crag Law Center, who is representing Juliana and Chernaik, believes his clients are bringing a valid case to court. "The state has a fiduciary obligation to these kids," he said.
James Hansen, one of the world’s leading climate scientists who wrote a scientific paper in 2013 which is the basis of the lawsuit, told Huffington Post in an email: "Eventually the youth will win as the situation becomes clearer, but it is a dangerous situation, because by the time the climate change becomes obvious it is hard to prevent much larger change in the next several decades.”
His groundbreaking work on climate change concluded that the "continuation of high fossil fuel emissions would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice."
Juliana said Chernaik say they right to a healthy environment. Current U.S. environmental law is not cutting it, they argue, and government regulators are continually influenced by the corporations they are supposed to supervise.
"I'm paying them and they don't seem to be seeing how their decisions are impacting me," Juliana said. "They are speaking from their wallets and not from their hearts or heads.”