Nearly two dozen kids, aged 8 to 19, appeared in the Eugene District Court in Oregon Wednesday to sue the U.S. government and President Barack Obama for their alleged failure to prevent the harmful impact of climate change. Although an immediate ruling on whether the case, filed last August, will be allowed to go forward was not issued Wednesday, the plaintiffs said they expected a decision in one to two months.
The children, backed by their parents and local activists, seek to hold Obama and the government responsible for “continued fossil fuel exploitation,” the environmental group Our Children’s Trust, which, along with the former NASA climate scientist James Hansen, is backing the plaintiffs, said in a statement published on their website.
“The Federal Government has known for decades that fossil fuels are destroying the climate system. The plaintiffs seek a court order requiring the President to immediately implement a national plan to decrease atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to a safe level — 350 ppm [parts per million] by the year 2100,” the group said in the statement.
Currently, the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere stands at 400 ppm — the highest concentration of the heat-trapping gas the planet’s atmosphere has seen in nearly 650,000 years.
If the case is allowed to go forward, the plaintiffs will ask the court to hold the government responsible for violating the children’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, property and equal protection under the law as well as to benefit from the public trust, which they argue includes the atmosphere.
“The purpose of this case is to obtain an order from a federal court requiring the United States government, including the President and specific federal agencies, to develop a national plan to protect our atmosphere and stable climate system,” Julia Olson, executive director at Our Children’s Trust and the lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement released in August. “This lawsuit asks whether our government has a constitutional responsibility to leave a viable climate system for future generations.”
In his second term as the president, and especially over the past year, Obama has sought to push forward a number of initiatives aimed at mitigating the effects of climate change. However, according to the United Nations, even these actions are not nearly enough to prevent a catastrophic 2 degrees Celsius rise in global temperatures above pre-industrial levels.