On April 8, there was a major ruling in a landmark constitutional climate change lawsuit against the federal government. The U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon denied a motion to dismiss the case, allowing it to go forward.
The case was filed in September 2015 by twenty-one young people from across the United States against the federal government. Joining these young people is world-renowned climate scientist Dr. James E. Hansen, whose role is serving as guardian for future generations and his granddaughter. The lawsuit claims that, in causing climate change, the federal government has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources. Their complaint also alleges the U.S. government is violating the youth’s constitutional rights by promoting the development and use of fossil fuels, which is a challenge to federal fossil fuel programs.
The federal government has known for decades that fossil fuel extraction and use are destroying our climate system, and the government has acted contrary to that knowledge. The plaintiffs are seeking a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) to a safe level: 350 ppm by the year 2100. This case has the potential to force the federal government to take serious action on climate change and shift the national discussion on climate change from one centered around CO2 emitters, like utility companies, to young people who will have to live dramatically different lives than their parents and grandparents with tremendous challenges due to climate change.