In 2015 twenty-one youths filed a lawsuit, Juliana v. U.S., in Oregon’s U.S. District Court. They were seeking protection from the ravages of a destabilized climate. They asserted, in part, that “through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.”
Since then our federal administration has been seeking to delay and derail the litigation, but last July the Supreme Court ruled that it should go forward. The trial date was set for October 29.
It is a lawsuit none of us would wish on our children. We would like our youth to grow up in a world rich with opportunity, a world that could be counted on—fisheries should be teeming, farms should have plenty of water, forests should offer abundant adventure, wildlife, and timber, too. But unfortunately that is a declining reality. Our news is of stressed resources, drought, increasing heat, fires and smoke; of hurricanes dumping more water, and now waving toward the shores of San Diego; of the uneasy specter of disappearing businesses and declining home values as oceans rise and smoke blankets farms and cities. It is easy to sound apocalyptic on this, and therefor ridiculous. But climate is everywhere, so when it destabilizes, its effects are everywhere.
Juliana v. U.S. is not a lawsuit we would wish on our nation, either. We would like, first of all, for climate change simply not to be real. So while we trust doctors for medicine, financial advisors for investments, and engineers for designing bridges and airplanes, we have denied the expertise of climate scientists, perhaps turning the channel at the news and sometimes even discounting our own experiences. Climate instability is just too vast, too unusual, and too unsettling to accept.
But even when we get past the wishful thinking, the lawsuit is still not something we would want for our country. We would hope to be a nation in which a lawsuit from our children were not necessary for us to act responsibly. But the suit contends, essentially, that as a nation we have not, and in that failure we are denying the Blessings of Liberty to our Posterity.
Regardless of how the lawsuit is resolved, as a representative democracy we choose our government actions.
Locally we’ve made some progress. Following state regulation, the City of Redding through REU currently provides 27.5% renewable energy, and is exploring scenarios that can more than double its renewable sources by 2030. Other readily available positive steps could be a strong Tree Ordinance that would support carbon removal and provide cooling shade, cutting both energy costs and emissions that increase fire-prone conditions. Following the Carr Fire, the city could support energy efficient reconstruction; zero energy offices and homes are possible in our climate. The new City Council has substantial opportunities to act for our common benefit.
At the county level, we seem stalled. The issue was absent from Board of Supervisor campaigns, and Shasta County has yet to adopt the Climate Action Plan it drafted six years ago. The Board could revisit that Plan; a robust form of it could both streamline CEQA requirements and do our part to shrink climate change emissions.
At the federal level, we’re going from bad to worse. Our government is not only reducing support for clean energy that could cut our contribution to climate change, but is actively taking steps to increase fossil fuel use, effectively raising our climate change input. Congressman LaMalfa continues to downplay climate change and vote as if it weren’t real. Instead, we could promote clean energy by charging energy developers for carbon waste their products create and rebating those fees to the public who suffer from their waste through increased storms, drought, and fire.
In Oregon, the children’s lawsuit may or may not rattle US policies. Indeed, it may not even go to trial. In the last month the Administration has again delayed the trial’s start with appeals to the reconstituted Supreme Court and now through the Ninth Circuit Court.
But whatever we as a people do or don’t do, we are suffering from climate change, and our children will suffer worse. We cannot at this point avert the damage entirely. But we can keep from adding to the losses. As individuals, as businesses, and importantly through our newly elected officials we can take meaningful steps to minimize climate change and bestow on our children as best we can the blessings that liberty ought to offer.