Written by Ingrid Gilles
Many Christians are familiar with the passage from 1 Timothy 4:12 which says, "Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.” Twenty-one youth across the United States are currently taking action and setting an example in a profound way. They are doing this through a climate lawsuit.
An organization called Our Children's Trust brought forward the suit which represents the interests of the youth and climate scientist James Hansen. Recognized as Juliana v. United States, the case alleges that the federal government and fossil fuel industry have violated the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property—the rights to a livable climate. It generates an arousing discussion, since it is the first climate suit that relies on the basis of the public trust doctrine. This claims that natural resources belong to the public and should be defended by the government. The youth plaintiffs assert that the government's promotion of extracting fossil fuels and ignoring the very eminent issue of climate change puts future generations at risk.
While it is just now getting national attention, it was originally filed against the Obama administration in August of 2015. In November of 2016, Judge Ann Aiken denied the motions to have this lawsuit dismissed. The administration’s argument was that since they were already addressing climate change, it would be unnecessary. After President Trump was inaugurated, he replaced Obama in the suit. Almost immediately after this, the new administration filed a request to appeal Aiken’s ruling. The District Court of Oregon was given the deadline of June 9th to decide on the appeal. On June 8th, the appeal was denied. This monumental decision now increases the chances the youth have of a trial.
Among the youth is a young man by the name of Kiran Oommen. As the son of UCC minister Rev. Melanie Oommen, he is taking a stand and remaining engaged. Not only is he involved with this lawsuit, but his plethora of activities includes his jobs as a community organizer, musician, and dog walker. Kiran is also a student studying sociology and cello performance at Seattle University. In his free time, he plays with his band Geophagia, a folk punk duo that focuses their music around the benefits of gardening and the varying problems of society.
As a community, the duty to support and encourage the youth is now placed in our hands. To see this lawsuit through, Our Children’s Trust offers updates to those who sign-up. Earth Guardians is a youth organization and a plaintiff in the case. They are currently working on the YouCAN campaign for youth who are interested in building on the federal lawsuit by advocating for “legally-binding, science-based climate recovery ordinances” with their city governments.
Ingrid Gilles is a high school student from Columbus, Ohio. She is currently a summer intern for the UCC Environmental Justice program.