Twenty-one youth plaintiffs have seen progress in a first-of-its-kind climate change lawsuit they filed against the federal government and fossil-fuel industries, and they remain hopeful in science – even as a climate change-denying cabinet takes over Capitol Hill.
A youth advocate team, Our Children’s Trust, filed the climate lawsuit on Sept. 10, 2015, with the United States District Court and District of Oregon.
The lawsuit asserts that the federal government, along with fossil-fuel industries, knew its actions were causing increased CO2 emissions, but did nothing to fix the issue.
The group also argues that “through the government's affirmative actions in causing climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.”
On Nov. 10, 2016, U.S. District Court Judge Ann Aiken denied the government and fossil-fuel industry’s motion to dismiss suit.
Alex Loznak, 19-years-old and one of the 21 plaintiffs, said the government’s inaction on climate change has directly affected his family farm outside of Roseburg, Ore. Loznak said record-breaking heat waves created harsh working conditions on the farm.
"My family’s hazelnut orchard was adversely impacted; some of the trees died; they required extra watering and extra labor. Also, we had some timber trees die because of the heat waves and the drought,” Loznak said.
Loznak said the summers of 2013, ‘14 and ‘15 were the hottest on record, a statement that scientific data supports.
In January, the NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information released a global analysis of temperatures showing 2016 was the warmest year since NOAA began keeping records in 1880. It marked the third consecutive year a record high global annual temperature was set.
The fossil-fuel industry’s carbon emissions are one of the main contributors to the rise in global temperatures, according to the lawsuit.
If the climate-change lawsuit wins in trial, "the federal government will have to reduce carbon emissions in a manner that's consistent with the best available science," Loznak said.
On Feb. 7, 2017, Judge Thomas M. Coffin of the U.S. District Court in Oregon held an open court case management conference where all lawyers from both parties were present. Our Children’s Trust said one main topic discussed during the management conference was what would be permissible to use in court.
According to Philip L. Gregory, one of the lawyers serving the youth plaintiffs, Judge Coffin left no room for error on what could and couldn’t be used in trial.
“The judge in there was very clear, he’s going to allow us to bring the science into the courtroom,” Gregory said.
This leaves way for climate change research by Dr. James Hansen, director of climate science at Columbia University, to be used in court.
According to Loznak, if the plaintiff’s win, Hansen’s work, among other research, will help form a plan involving the federal government, fossil fuel industries and the plaintiffs to reduce carbon emissions.
“The important point is that the reduction rate to achieve 80 percent reduction by 2050 is conceivable,” Hansen said in an article, posted to his Columbia University communications page, titled the “Rolling Stones.” “However, it will not happen unless the world comes to its senses in the next few years and agrees that it is necessary to have an across-the-board (oil, gas, coal) rising carbon fee collected at domestic mines and ports of entry, thus making the price of fossil fuels more honest by including their costs to society.”
Carbon emissions’ cost to society is something President Barack Obama recognized, leading him to sign the Paris Agreement, Sep. 3, 2016, with 197 other countries.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change website, the Paris Agreement sets a new course in the global climate effort by bringing all nations together to battle against climate change and to adapt to its effects.
The UNFCCC’s website shows that as of now only 132 out of the 197 countries have ratified the agreement, the United States being one that has. President Donald Trump, however, has vowed to pull out of the agreement.
Loznak said that for the past eight years the U.S. had a president who at least acknowledged climate change, but President Trump claims that climate change is a hoax made up by the Chinese.
Alex’s claim refers to post on Twitter sent out by President Trump, in 2012: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” Trump later denied that claim during a presidential debate with then-nominee Hillary Clinton.
On Feb. 9, 2017, youth plaintiffs filed a notice in federal court, naming President Trump as a defendant in the case. His name replaces President Obama’s in the case.
As the president chooses to deny climate change and assembles a cabinet with similar views, Loznak emphasizes the seriousness of the case. "There aren't a lot of lines of defense left for the climate, and this is a very important one," Loznak said.
A trial date has not been set, but is expected to be during the summer or fall of 2017.
As the case inches closer to being heard, Loznak had one clear message to the public: "Don't lose hope."
Photo: Alex Loznak. (Credit: Robin Loznak)