Kids Fight for Atmosphere as a “Public Trust”

“THE STATE HAS A SOVEREIGN OBLIGATION OVER ALL EARTH AND AIR WITHIN ITS DOMAIN.”    U.S. Supreme Court 1907

Creative Commons photo Rachel CarsonIn 1962, when Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was published, I was eleven, the same age as Jamie-Lynn Butler now. I was thirteen, like Glori Die Filippone, when Ms. Carson lost her fight with cancer. As a kid, the “environment” was school, summer camp, or my room. The only battle lines I drew were those separating my parents from me. It took more than a decade before I got that “the environment” wasn’t about my tiny world view. But recalling my youthful ignorance or feeling badly when I slack off recycling are empty gestures.

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Seventeen year-old iMatter Movement founder, Alec Loorz, and the other young people at the core of the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit against the federal government and 49 states, have taken charge and inspire awe. They’re not phrase-makers.

Trust litigant Nelson Kanuk watches winter come later every year, threatening his family’s subsistence-based life in Alaska. Twenty-three year-old Montana farmer, John Thiebes, risks his economic future, making his farm a climate-friendly guinea pig. “Climate change,” he says, “is the defining issue of my generation and the generations to follow.”

Alec created the iMatter Movement because he saw what we are doing to counteract climate change isn’t big enough or fast enough. What’s needed is a politically and legally solid engine to drive change. Through the “Trust” lawsuit these powerful young souls face a fight for the environment much bigger than the earlier ones of my generation. I’m ashamed, after such a good start in the 1970s with the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, and other regulations, we let so much progress on the side of the environment slide under the corporate and individual “can’t live without it” bus. As 65 year-old Huffington Post energy and climate policy contributor, William S. Becker, (“Children v. Dirty Business,”) put it:

I must admit some embarrassment that our children now feel obligated to face off against the giants of industry and government and all their lawyers. These kids are stepping in where their elders in Washington and the international community have feared to tread.

Global fossil carbon emissions 1800–2007

Global fossil carbon emissions 1800–2007

The aim of the lawsuit is simple — our federal and state governments have a mandated responsibility to protect the environment. The suit asks for a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change. Planning. We do it all the time. The atmosphere, the kids claim, like the water we drink and air we breathe, is a “public trust” that belongs to everyone. What a thought. 

What’s Next? Who’s Playing?

In March this year, under District Court approval, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM, “one of the largest fossil fuel lobbying groups in the country”) and five other industry groups joined federal lawyers, asking the kid’s case be thrown out. Most states are following that lead. NAM’s lawyers argue industry has a legal interest (translate, a right) to “freely emit CO2” and that limiting greenhouse gasses would “limit or eliminate their businesses.” May 11th, 2012 a judge will side one way or the other. The efforts of these brave young people will either suffocate in a Washington, D.C. courtroom or breathe the fresh air of hope. 

We can’t vote. We can’t afford lobbyists. We can only trust that our leaders will make good decisions on our behalf.  But when they make decisions like favoring oil company profits over our safety, then we need to hold them accountable. — Alec Loorz
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Troubled Nature, Phase II

Go here to watch five short and moving videos of the Trust kids mentioned in the article. Five more will be posted at that site, one a month.

And here to learn more about the movement, the lawsuit, donate, or sign a petition to the Obama administration.