A Gift for Me? Is it a Lawsuit?

The world’s foremost proponent for returning to the Stone Age has been defeated. We pictured him holed up in a cave somewhere, but he was rooted out of an ugly mansion that lacked cable TV. That’s primitive enough for many of us, but it doesn’t do much to burnish his legend.

Already attentions have shifted away from the past and toward the future. Children across America are preparing a protest march on Sunday, as you read in yesterday’s guest commentary by Sage Fox. They are also taking their elders to court, demanding they account for a breach of promise that hasn’t been fully broken yet, but is slowly creeping toward inevitability.

Taking a long view is best accomplished by first taking a step back. Climate change is beyond dispute and humans are undoubtedly the cause. More specifically, greenhouse gas levels are well above anything our atmosphere has previously been asked to absorb. The resulting rise in temperature cannot be reversed in a geologic instant. We’ll know what’s coming long before it hits us.

Glaciers are receding more rapidly than governments are responding. Wherever glaciers are winning a footrace, there’s bound to be trouble.

Studying an impending peril looks like sound strategy only to those who don’t expect to live long enough to suffer the consequences of inaction. But those laggardly legislators have children, and children are organizing their voices to be heard before it’s too late.

It all started when a 13-year-old went to the movies and got inspired. (Those crazy kids!) Alec Loorz started Kids Vs. Global Warming after seeing “An Inconvenient Truth.”

While Loorz, now 16, has been recruiting kids to file petitions against their state governments from Ventura, Calif., Julia Olson, 40, has been here in Eugene, recruiting lawyers to file those suits.

As executive director of Our Children’s Trust, Olson has had a busy week. State agencies in the remaining states received petitions for agency rule-making, which likewise put local governments on notice.

Atmospheric Trust Litigation has its recent roots here in Eugene. It rests on the shoulders of work done by Professor Mary Wood at the University of Oregon Law School. Although she’s not a litigator, Wood has developed the legal framework for allowing courts to insist that lawmakers do what is necessary to preserve what she calls “Nature’s Trust.”

“The public trust law in our country and around the world says that common resources like water and air are held in trust by the government for the people and for future generations,” said Olson. “Lawyers around the nation are providing legal assistance to young people to help them protect their future, since the government has abdicated that responsibility.”

“Nature’s Trust” has now leapt off the pages of the legal theory and landed in ten courtrooms across the country, just in time for Mother’s Day.

Olson, a mother of four, is quick to point out that Julia Ward Howe is the mother of Mother’s Day. Howe’s intent in 1870 was to mobilize mothers as pacifists and activists, giving them a day to celebrate every mother’s unique investment in the future — the ones that tug at her apron-strings.

Keep in mind the Mother’s Day tradition started not only 55 years before the Hall brothers first printed “Hallmark” on the back of a card, but a half-century before women won the right to vote.

And so it is this week. As Loorz wrote this week on his blog, “As youth, we are the last group of people in the United States who don’t have any official political rights. We can’t vote, we certainly can’t compete with rich corporate lobbyists. So we are forced to simply trust our government to make good decisions on our behalf.”

The political website Politico covered the lawsuits with this headline: “Kids on climate change: ‘Are we there yet?’”

Analysts are speculating that when the Arab Spring youth movement ignited change across the Middle East, it made al-Qaeda look out of touch and out of date. This may be another youth-inspired revolution, happening much closer to home.
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Loonz’s entire blog entry is posted below. In a related event, Kathleen Dean Moore will give a free lecture at the University of Oregon Monday, May 9 at 7:30 p.m. at 282 Lillis Hall. The title of her speech: “Ethics and Climate Change: What Do We Owe the Future?”
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Alec Loonz’s blog entry:

I am 16 years old. This morning I filed a lawsuit against the United States of America, for allowing money to be more powerful than the survival of my generation, and for making decisions that threaten our right to a safe and healthy planet.
Our parents’ and grandparents’ generation has created a problem. They’ve developed a society that depends on burning fossil fuels, like coal and oil, to survive. They never realized that there were any huge consequences to running our lives with fossil fuels. But now, we do.
Our addiction to fossil fuels is messing up the perfect balance of nature and threatening the survival of my generation. If we continue to hide in denial and avoid taking action, I and my generation will be forced to grow up in a world where hurricanes as big as Katrina are normal, people die every year because of heat waves, droughts, and floods, and entire species of animals we’ve come to know disappear right before our eyes.
This is not the future I want. And I know that we still have a chance to turn this picture around. But, it’s going to take more than changing light bulbs and buying hybrid cars. I believe it will take nothing less than a revolution… a revolution in our entire culture and way of thinking, so that we value nature and the future of my generation with every action we take.
And I believe this revolution needs to be led by youth. It’s our future we’re fighting for, and we are some of the most creative, dedicated, and passionate people on the planet. We have the moral authority to look into our parents and leaders eyes and ask them, “Do I matter to you?”
Also, as youth, we are the last group of people in the US who don’t have any official political rights. We can’t vote, we certainly can’t compete with rich corporate lobbyists… So we are forced to simply trust our government to make good decisions on our behalf.
However, it’s become clear that our government has failed us, by not protecting the resources on this planet we need to survive. Even though scientists overwhelmingly agree that CO2 emissions are totally messing up the balance of our atmosphere, our leaders continue to turn their backs on this crisis.
The time has come for the youngest generation to hold our leaders accountable for their actions.
Today, I and other fellow young people are suing the government, for handing over our future to unjust fossil fuel industries, and ignoring the right of our children to inherit the planet that has sustained all of civilization. I will join with youth and attorneys in every state in the US to demand that our leaders to live and govern as if our future matters.
The government has a legal responsibility to protect the future for our children. So we are demanding that they recognize the atmosphere as a commons that needs to be preserved, and commit to a plan to reduce emissions to a safe level.
The plaintiffs and petitioners on all the cases are young people. We are standing up for our future.
But we will not only stand up in the courts. We will stand up in the streets as well.
Starting this Mothers’ Day weekend, the youngest generation will rise up and march in our communities. We will unite together with a powerful voice to call for action on climate change, and demand that our society lives as if our future matters.
We will let the world know that climate change is not about money, it’s not about power, it’s not about convenience. It’s about our future. It’s about the survival of this and every generation to come.
The iMatter March is a series of more than 100 marches in states all across the US, and in over 25 countries worldwide, including Columbia, Gambia, Germany, Thailand India, on Mount Everest (!!!) and there’s even one being planned by the son of an oil executive in Kuwait.
And it’s about more than just these events. This is a movement. A mass movement of young people standing up with a unified voice to tell the ruling generation that we will no longer just sit idly by as they make decisions that threaten our future. We matter. Our future matters.
Thomas Jefferson once said, “Every generation needs a new revolution.” Well this is ours. The time has now come for the youngest generation to make a stand for our future.
This is our revolution. This is our time.