Beyond recycling: Young people get their hands dirty in the fight against climate change

Young people suing the government? It doesn’t seem likely, but more and more youths are sticking up for their rights to a clean, or at least cleaner, Earth.

Climate change is “affecting health, and … how we’re going to live our lives in the future,” said student A. Tennant at Julia R. Masterman High School. “I mean, we’re the ones that are going to be dealing with this, not [President] Trump’s generation. We’re growing up right now.”

Today’s youths are seeking legal remedies that will help ensure that they are good stewards of the Earth.

Take Juliana et al v. United States, for example. Twenty-one people ages 10 to 21 filed a lawsuit against the federal government in 2015, claiming that the government is not protecting them against the negative effects of climate change.

They accuse the government of ignoring their constitutional rights by not taking action. The case was set to start on Feb. 5, but the Trump administration paused it after several attempts to delay and halt the case.

“Unfortunately, those kinds of stall tactics are not uncommon,” Rosanne Mistretta, a former attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency who is now a teacher at Abington Friends School, said in an email. However, she noted that the plaintiff’s “attorneys are doing a good job of keeping it moving.”

In another case, two students in Pennsylvania, along with the Clean Air Council, are suing the Trump administration for using “junk science” to justify a series of deregulations leading to “damages, death and destruction” from climate change, according to the suit.

If the global climate is allowed to shift and the planet continues to warm, the children suing will be personally affected, according to the political website The Hill. One of the students bringing the suit has asthma and the other has survived Hurricanes Sandy and Irene.

The Pennsylvania lawsuit focuses on the Trump administration’s deregulation of President Barack Obama’s actions to slow and stop climate change. It asks the government to cease backing “any rollbacks that increase the frequency and/or intensity of the life-threatening effects of climate change,” such as the dismissal of the Clean Power Plan and the United States’ pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.

In addition to these lawsuits, young people are doing what they can to do something about climate change. Many schools have a Sierra Club chapter or a similar climate change awareness group. At Julia R. Masterman, one such club is the Environmental Consciousness Organization, which discusses climate change and global warming issues and organizes bake sales and trips to learn about and act on those issues.

Katie Gobreski, a senior and member of the club, admires the lawsuits that her peers have filed.

“It’s a really bold move and one that makes sense and will hopefully have an impact on how our government handles problems going forward,” Gobreski said in an email.

However, she is unsure if the suits will make a difference with so many people refusing to try to reduce the causes of climate change.

“As of right now, things really only seem to be getting worse,” Gobreski said.

Trump described the Paris climate agreement as “totally disastrous, job killing,” at the Conservative Political Action Conference, according to Time magazine. He told the Washington Post he wasn’t a “big believer” in human-caused climate change.

Mistretta said that detractors often “point to the fact that climate change is inevitable” and say that “human causes are irrelevant.” She says that the only way to truly change people’s opinions is through experience.

“As it starts to impact [people] personally, it will help shift opinions,” she said.

In the meantime, many young people keep fighting to clean up the mess.

“Take into account the thoughts of young people,” said Avalon Hinchman, a freshman at Masterman. “They are going to make a change.”

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