I’d like you to meet 21 gutsy kids. I’ll give you a link to their webpage and identities in a few minutes.
But first some background.
We close the final chapter of Wonderlust with: “Philosopher and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer wrote the first two volumes of his Philosophy of Civilization in 1923. Upon his death in 1965, the incomplete drafts of the final two volumes were found. Some historians attribute his failure to complete the work to his intense, life-consuming work at his mission hospital in Africa. But a deeper examination reveals that he decided his life, rather than his writings, would be his argument — the validation for his philosophy. There is no better guide for the stories we create to guide us through our futures:
“My Life Will Be My Argument. I will be a Difference Maker. I will be a Force of Nature.”
Shortly after completing the book, I learned of an Oregon charity, Our Children’s Trust, who, together with a bevy of young folks, were making their Lives their Argument, without ever having turned a page in Wonderlust.
They’re Difference Makers. They’re enthusiastic, positive, vital, necessary Forces for Nature.
Our Children’s Trust’s mission statement, which guides them, is irresistible:
“OUR CHILDREN’S TRUST elevates the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate for the benefit of all present and future generations. Through our programs, youth participate in advocacy, public education and civic engagement to ensure the viability of all natural systems in accordance with science.
“Our mission is to protect earth’s atmosphere and natural systems for present and future generations. We lead a game-changing legal campaign seeking systemic, science-based emissions and climate recovery policy at all levels of government. We give young people, those with most at stake in the climate crisis, a voice to favorably impact their futures.”
I learned about Our Children’s Trust after I had become aware that a 15-year-old Oregon girl, Kelsey Juliana, and her 11-year-old pal, Olivia Chernik, filed a lawsuit against Oregon’s governor claiming the state had violated its responsibilities to protect the water, land and atmosphere. That led to a study of the legal issues involved, well-stated by Law Professor Mary Christina Wood in Nature’s Trust, Environmental Law for a New Ecological Age.
The fundamental conclusion is that we parents, and our governments, have breached our responsibility to our children and their children in the way we handle our Earth’s environment and resources, which we hold in trust for them and all future generations. The issue is more than a climate issue. A healthy, fruitful environment with clean air and water is a human rights issue – something the penumbra of rights surrounding our Constitution, sourced in our Bill of Rights as well as ancient common law, provides that future generations have a right to expect and enjoy. And it’s also a responsibility issue, something we parents and elder generations, and our elected governmental representatives, owe to our offspring and their offspring.
A study of Florida’s Constitution lends credence to the Nature’s Trust argument. Article II of our Florida Constitution provides:
“It shall be the policy of the state to conserve and protect its natural resources and scenic beauty. Adequate provision shall be made by law for the abatement of air and water pollution and of excessive and unnecessary noise and for the conservation and protection of natural resources.”
That’s pretty strong language, right here at home, in Florida.
Up to now, Our Children’s Trust has been active, primarily in several Western states.
But something special happened on August 12, 2015, International Youth Day. Our Children’s Trust announced that 21 gutsy kids sued our Federal Government asserting their Nature’s Trust rights that we parents and our representatives have failed to protect and provide for them. The press release provides in part:
“Today, on International Youth Day, 21 young people from across the United States filed a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. Also acting as a Plaintiff is world-renown climate scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, serving as guardian for future generations and for his granddaughter, and Earth Guardians, representing young citizen beneficiaries of the public trust. The Complaint asserts that, in causing climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources.”
So, now, I’d like to introduce you to these 21 gutsy kids. Check out “Meet the Youth Plaintiffs.” Consider carefully what each of them has to say. I must tell you, doing so humbled me and embarrassed me. After all, aren’t we parents supposed to take care of our kids? Why do these feisty kids have to jump in and clean up the mess we are unwilling to deal with?
Of course, we can be “sweet” – we can pat these kids on the head and attribute what they are doing to a misguided, youthful, naive understanding about how the world works. After all, if we face up to our use of fossil fuels, global carbon emissions, pollution and abuse of our Earth’s finite resources, we would be knocking the economics we all need to live.
And, for those among us who are deniers, and supporters of the “status quo,” or who lobby for the fossil fuel industry, there really isn’t too much to worry about. After all, so far the courts have treated these sorts of issues as “political questions,” or matters of rule making, within the purview of the legislators and not the courts. For example:
• Check out Will these Alaska villagers be America’s first climate change refugees? With rising seas from global warming, their village is sinking into the sea and they have to relocate. They sued the fossil fuel industry for damages without success.
• Andrew Hoffman reports in How Culture Shapes the Climate Change Debate, the dismissal of law suits filed against power companies claiming that the power companies pollute, creating a public nuisance.
But we are at the start, and not the end, of the story.
Hoffman quoted Adam Houchshild who wrote in Bury the Chains that if in the 18th century:
“‘you stood on a London street corner and insisted that slavery was morally wrong and should be stopped, nine out of ten listeners would have laughed you off as a crackpot.'”
“It would have led to a collapse of the economy and their way of life. . . .
“Today we live in a fossil fuel-based economy. . . . Calls to end our dependence on them are being met with the same kind of response as did calls to end our dependence on slavery: such a move would wreck the economy and the way of life on which it is built. . . . Accepting that value will take a long time. . . .
“In climate change, the costs are passed to future generations, some fifty years from now, and more likely to those in vulnerable, poor, and low-lying countries. Those who benefit from the burning of fossil fuels (the developed world) do not bear a proportionate cost of impacts. For the United States in particular (which has 4.6% of the global population and is responsible for 25% of the global oil consumption), reducing fossil fuels threatens deep and powerful interests who resist change. An entire social movement and campaign exists to discredit the science of climate change, and it is driven by those who would lose in the wake of any policies that limit greenhouse gas emissions.”
As difficult as the challenge undertaken by Our Children’s Trust and those 21 gutsy kids is, there is hope. It took strong-hearted and determined women, and 19 amendments to our Federal Constitution, for women to have the right to vote. It took some five decades of effort before our government curtailed the tobacco industry and its touting of how good and healthy it is to smoke. Civil Rights don’t come easy, even today, after the death of Martin Luther King. Cultural acceptance of challenges to our deeply-held beliefs, and our economics, are never easy. Convincing us that we must deal with our climate and our Earth in a healthier way will also not be easy.
But Hoffman concludes his book by reminding us:
“Never Waste a Good Crisis.”
With today’s violent storms, rising seas, melting glaciers, droughts, and hotter-than-hot weather, these feisty kids and Our Children’s Trust agree!
To learn more about Wonderlust, click on: