In the fight against climate change, young people across the globe have made their voices loud and clear. They want change—and they want it now. This urgency has propelled the topic of climate change to the mainstream in politics. Since then, many 2020 presidential candidates, both Democrats and Republicans, have released their stances on climate change.
As concerns for the environment continue to mount, some young people have lost faith in their leaders. Hence, they’ve started their own initiatives. Here are some of the most influential.
Juliana v. the United States
A group of 21 youth activists sued the federal government for pushing fossil fuel-driven energy policies that cause climate change. The plaintiffs argue the government’s negligence in acting against climate change violates their constitutional right to life, liberty, and property.
Just last Tuesday, attorneys representing the plaintiffs petitioned for the case, Juliana v. the United States, to go to trial. The lawsuit calls for the courts to act against climate change by deeming energy policies that cause climate change unconstitutional. Further, the lawsuit demands the government lower emissions to a certain level by 2100 and implement a national recovery plan.
Julia Olson, the chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, who represents the plaintiffs, told judges, “When our great-grandchildren look back on the 21st century, they will see that government-sanctioned climate destruction was the constitutional issue of this century.”
The landmark case emphasizes how the effects of climate change threaten young people the most. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with 14 other health organizations, and around 80 scientists and doctors supported this claim in a brief filed with the appeals court. In a report by the World Health Organization, 88% of the global health burden of climate change falls on children younger than 5.
The hearing for Juliana v. the United States, started in 2015 by then-19-year-old Kelsey Juliana, was initially scheduled for October. However, courts continued to push it back. Notably, both the Obama and Trump administrations have tried to get the case dismissed.
The lawsuit has gained backlash from opponents, such as assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Jeffrey Bossert Clark. Clark argued the case should not go forward, saying it was a “dagger at the separation of powers,” since the plaintiffs are calling for the courts to lead policy decisions, rather than elected officials. Clark defended BP after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
“This court case is about establishing a constitutional right to a stable climate system of sustaining human life,” Juliana, now the oldest of the 21 plaintiffs at age 23, told KGW8. “When we first filed the case, the government did not take us seriously. They just thought they would be in and out, try to dismiss this case.”
In the coming weeks or months, a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is to decide whether the case will be advanced.
School Strike for Climate
A few weeks ago, 16-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, once again galvanized hundreds of thousands of students from 1,600 cities and more than 125 countries to walk out of school in the name of her School Strike for Climate Movement. The movement urges politicians to take action against the growing climate crisis.
Thunberg made headlines after skipping school to strike outside of the Swedish parliament building every Friday starting last year. Since then, Thunberg has become a global phenomenon. She’s since encouraged thousands of students to participate in similar strikes and has been at the helm of the #FridaysForFuture movement. Amnesty International, among other organizations, have recognized Thunberg’s work. Most notably, she was also nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
13-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor was among many students inspired by Thunberg to take action herself. Every Friday since December, Villaseñor has picketed outside the United Nations, equipped with handmade signs and, during the polar vortex when temperatures hit subzero, a sleeping bag for warmth.
“It’s important to take action now because we don’t have time left. By the time the youth are in positions of power, it’ll be too late to reverse climate change. We have to force politicians to start acting on climate change,” Villaseñor told The Nation. “Why go to school if we won’t have a future?”
U.S. Youth Climate Strike
In solidarity with Thunberg, Villaseñor has helped spearhead U.S. involvement in the global climate protests through the Youth Climate Strike U.S. (YCSUS). Villaseñor co-founded YCSUS with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s 16-year-old daughter Isra Hirsi and 12-year-old Haven Coleman. 16-year-old Maddy Fernands acts as the group’s national press director.
Climate change directly and most severely affects today’s youth, and more and more young people across the globe have made it clear they refuse to sit idly by in the wake of the climate crisis. As initiatives against climate change gain traction, evidently, the world’s youth is getting more involved in creating a safer, more sustainable future.