Kids across America would be smart to send their good vibes to California this weekend. More specifically, they should focus on San Francisco and even more specifically on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
While that may be a strange place for kids to think about, the quality of their lives in the years ahead is hanging in the balance. Another bunch of kids and young adults will battle a lawyer from the federal government in front of the Court’s three-judge panel Monday to argue that President Trump must do something about global climate change. The kids went to court because young people, present and future, will suffer most from the dangerous impacts of global warming, much worse than the wildfires, floods, hurricanes, droughts and rising seas we see today.
The stakes are big. In their lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, the youngsters charge that the government is contributing to climate change by doing things like allowing coal and oil to be produced on public lands. They argue that a climate system capable of sustaining human life must be protected by the government as a public trust. But their most important argument – one that could take their case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – is that the federal government’s failure to do enough about global warming will damage the planet so profoundly that it violates children’s constitutional rights to life and liberty.
Based on those arguments, lower courts have allowed the case to proceed. A trial against the government is scheduled for next February, but President Trump and his Administration want to keep it from taking place.
The kids filed their lawsuit when Barack Obama was president, even though he was doing more than any previous president stop global warming. President Donald Trump does not even believe that global warming is a problem, if it’s real at all, and he has been undoing all the climate-action initiatives President Obama put in place. That makes the lawsuit even more important and the federal government even more culpable.
The Trump Administration clearly is worried. The department is sending one of its high-ranking lawyers to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to argue against the kids. In addition, Justice Department officials reportedly have been rounding up scientists who are willing to argue that climate science is still unsettled and that no immediate government action is necessary.
Climate science has been in court before. When he was president, George W. Bush also wanted to ignore the seriousness of climate change. His Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided that CO2, the gas most responsible for the planet’s warming, is not a pollutant that could be regulated under the Clean Air Act. Twelve states and several cities disagreed and took EPA to court.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that if the Administrator of EPA certified that CO2 does in fact endanger public health and safety, the gas should be regulated. After President Obama was elected, his new EPA evaluated more than 100 published scientific studies and the work of hundreds of scientists. It concluded that carbon gas emissions are indeed a danger to the public health and welfare of this and future generations.
Now the latest legal battle is grinding slowly through the courts while sea levels rise, floods set records, wildfires turn entire neighborhoods to ash, and more violent hurricanes demolish our ocean-side and island communities. We hear again and again from the victims that disasters like this have never happened before.
Justice is supposed to be blind, but not the president of the United States. We should expect the leaders we elect to help protect us against risks so large and consequential that individual citizens cannot avoid them by themselves. If the kids’ case goes to trial and the trial goes well, it could finally force President Trump to accept that by failing to take strong and immediate action to slow down climate change, he is not only violating the law; he is violating his moral duty to make sure that today’s kids, and tomorrow’s, will not have to live in times far more dangerous than they already are today.