Judge Thomas Coffin of the Federal Court in Oregon ruled in favor of 21 plaintiffs, aged between 8-19, in a landmark constitutional climate change case that was brought against the Federal Government and the wider fossil fuel industry back in August 2015.
The Oregon-based non-governmental organization Our Children's Trust argue the U.S. government has known about the dangers of burning fossil fuels for over 50 years, yet has continued and still continues a practice that destabilizes the environment.
Now Judge Coffin has acknowledged the disastrous effects of human-induced climate change, which will ultimately affect all of humankind, but especially today's youth and future generations.
“Plaintiffs give this debate justiciability by asserting harms that befall or will befall them personally and to a greater extent than older segments of society," Judge Coffin wrote, rejecting arguments raised by Federal Government and fossil fuel industry representatives, who claim the government has no duty to protect essential natural resources.
The court found that the U.S. is supposed to act as a trustee of the planet's natural resources, so any government elected by the people has a duty to protect the natural eco-systems those people require for survival.
“The future of our generation is at stake,” says 16-year-old plaintiff Victoria Barrett | Photo: Our Children’s Trust
Meanwhile, the teenagers — who come from all over the country including Florida, Arizona, Hawaii and Alaska — accuse the U.S. government's promotion of the fossil fuel industry as infringing on the "fundamental right of citizens to be free from government actions that harm life, liberty and property."
The group are demanding the government "move to swiftly phase out CO2 emissions.”
“The future of our generation is at stake,” said 16-year-old activist Victoria Barrett to an audience of hundreds of people during the court hearing Friday.
“People label our generation as dreamers, but hope is not the only tool we have. I am a teenager. I want to do what I love and live a life full of opportunities. I want the generation that follows to have the same chance. I absolutely refuse to let our government’s harmful action, corporate greed, and the pure denial of climate science get in the way of that. If anything, I’m going to use my positive energy to show my government that I won’t let my world stop for them."
“Our generation will continue to be a force for the world," she added.
As part of the next step, the case needs to be reviewed by a separate judge in the same Federal Court. But Philip Gregory, the plaintiffs’ attorney, is hopeful and has branded Friday's decision ”one of the most significant in our nation’s history."