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Kids vs. Global Warming: The Lawsuit

Kids vs. Global Warming: The Lawsuit
Thu, 5/10/2012 - by Michael Levitin

Photo: A self-portrait by teenage climate activist Alec Loorz.

Alec Loorz became a climate change activist when he was 12. Five years later and about to graduate high school, Loorz is now the lead plaintiff in the first global warming lawsuit of its kind, filed by teenagers against federal agencies and manufacturers with the claim that their generation's future is being jeopardized by U.S. business interests that keep polluting despite the future climate costs.

"It’s not only a moral but a legal responsibility for the government to protect the atmosphere for future generations," said Loorz, speaking from his home in Ventura, California, ahead of his court hearing in D.C. on May 11. "The Public Trust Doctrine and commons law, which go back to Roman times, say that we have to protect nature for future generations. People have used the public trust doctrine on behalf of areas of land and rivers, but not on the atmosphere as a whole. This is a historic moment and I feel we really have a chance to push something through."

Founder of the non-profit Kids Vs. Global Warming, Loorz regularly travels to events, conferences and schools; he has given public talks on climate change to hundreds of thousands of people in recent years. Last May, he helped organize a youth march against climate change with the iMatter Movement, which inspired some 160 marches in more than 45 countries.

Starting about a year ago, he said, "I saw this need for something bigger--not just changing light bulbs and riding bikes. We needed something big, and I began to think that maybe the judicial branch of government is something we can try."

Loorz became the lead plaintiff and, with the help of attorneys, filed legal action in all 50 states. Most of the cases got rejected, but not the federal ones in D.C. And in November, "we filed a preliminary injunction, kind of an add-on to the case, stating that it's time-sensitive, an imminent threat, which made people take it more seriously."

As a result, the National Association of Manufacturers and fossil fuel lobbying organizations actively intervened last month, appealing to the U.S. government "saying they have every right to pollute and that we're threatening their business," said Loorz. His Federal Atmospheric Trust Litigation case, Alec L. v. Jackson, is nominally against Lisa Jackson of the Environmental Protection Agency.

According to the Kids vs. Global Warming press release last week, the group is not seeking monetary damages but rather is demanding that the U.S. government "immediately create and implement a scientifically viable emissions reduction plan."

"The court will decide whether the youth plaintiffs can sue their government for its failure to protect the atmosphere as a public resource, under the Public Trust Doctrine [which] requires sovereign governments to manage and protect vital natural resources for the common benefit of their citizens and future generations," continues the release. "Industry interests have intervened in the case, arguing that corporations have the right to emit unlimited carbon regardless of the environmental and human impacts."

Grant Serrelts, 16, and Glori Filippone, 13, are also youth plaintiffs in the case, which is being presented Friday at 9:30 a.m. in Eastern Courtroom 17 (6th floor) at 33 Constitution Ave NW, with Judge Robert Wilkins presiding. A rally and press conference will take place outside the courthouse an hour before, at 8:30 a.m.

In the broadest sense, said Loorz, the case represents a "beginning to value nature more than profits and power."

"It really isn’t just about climate change, carbon emissions and cap and trade," he added. "It’s that we’re living in a way that is wrong. We’re not valuing nature and future generations, we’re valuing money and special interests and profits and that’s what needs to change; we're asking the courts to hold government accountable. Poverty, war: all of it is because of this same core sickness.

"This lawsuit is a concrete example of something that will be a step breaking us free from that mindset. It is calling for our government to begin to govern as if our future matters. It’s a moral shift in values for our whole society."

Serving as scientific consultant for the case is former NASA scientists and outspoken climate activist James Hanson, who asserts that humanity must reduce carbon emissions 6% per year starting in 2013 to avoid potentially catastrophic runaway climate change later this century.

Loorz turned his attention full-time to the climate crisis when he was 12 after being stirred by Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth." He applied to Gore's training program at the Climate Reality Project, found a mentor there and soon became the group's youngest presenter at 14.

While uncertain whether the case will be dismissed "as frivolous or not," Loorz said, "the fact that huge industry groups have joined this case is a sign of how big this is, because they actually feel threatened. The [National Association of Manufacturers{http://www.nam.org/) has been instrumental beating cases like this in the past."

"It’s basically us versus the entire fossil fuel industry and the U.S. government, which at first seems like a totally losing battle," he added, "but our point is to make clear that it isn’t just five youths against them--it's the fossil fuel industry and government against an entire generation. Our focus is to fill the courtroom on Friday. We stand for something much bigger than ourselves. We stand for the rights of this generation to grow up on a planet that isn’t plagued by hurricanes and droughts and corruption and injustice. To have the opportunity to raise our own children on a planet similar to the one we were raised on."

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