October is traditionally celebrated as children’s health month. This is a time to bring attention to health issues unique to children as they grow, and work to improve the environments they’re growing in, to make them safer and healthier. It takes a village: family, neighbors, teachers, clinicians, and policymakers are all responsible for ensuring a bright future for our children. But this October, a group of inspiring young people are taking their future into their own hands. In a legal case originally set to begin next week, they argue the U.S. government’s role in causing climate change has denied them their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.
In a lawsuit first filed in 2015 (Juliana v. US), a group including 21 young people sued the United States for supporting policies that contribute to climate change, therefore causing them irreparable harm and denying them a safe climate. In brief, the plaintiffs claim that the United States has known for 50 years that increasing emissions of greenhouse gasses will damage the U.S. environment, and that the government has a duty to ensure a livable environment for its citizens. Thus, the United States has been derelict in its duty. The resulting harms will be felt most severely by children, through direct threats to their health and the denial of a future on a healthy planet.
The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the federal government to cease activities that will lead to the release of more greenhouse gasses, and to develop and implement policies and regulations that will significantly reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gasses.
The lawsuit is supported by Our Children’s Trust and Earth Guardians. Our Blessed Tomorrowpartner, the United Church of Christ, is also supporting the case with an effort to hold 1000 sermons across the country in solidarity with the plaintiffs.
Juliana has gained attention as a potential precedent-setting case where citizens seek to use the court system for relief, resulting from the inability of the executive and legislative branches to live up to their moral and civic duty to protect the citizens and residents of the United States.
The harms presented by the plaintiffs in the case focus on the impacts climate change will have on their quality of life. You can find the U.S. government’s own estimation of the current and future impacts of climate change across all regions of the United States in the National Climate Assessment.
When the case was filed, the defendants included various officials and executive offices within the administration of President Obama, as well as the president himself. With the change of administration in 2016, the Trump administration has inherited, and continued to fight, this lawsuit. Meanwhile, Juliana has suffered its latest delay, this time by order of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts.
The plaintiffs have responded to Chief Justice Roberts’ request for information ahead of the deadline he imposed, and have asked that the trial begin as planned on October 29. Rallies are being arranged at federal courthouses around the country. You can find the date and time for a rally near you or organize one yourself on the Our Children’s Trust website. Protecting children’s health through strong climate mitigation policies now will ensure a healthy planet for future generations. We’ll be watching the case unfold and support the young people fighting for all of us.
If you’re interested in starting a conversation about climate change and children’s health, see ecoAmerica’s June Talking Points, and see ecoAmerica’s Climate for Health program piece for the Children’s Environmental Health Network on the ways climate changes children’s health.