BETWEEN THE LINES: This lawsuit, Juliana v United States, was filed in 2015. Can you give us some of the background?
PAUL RINK: Julia Olson, the lead attorney, has been filing similar litigation for maybe eight years, and in doing so she’s kind of come up with a really strong legal argument and framework for a case, and that’s what led to Juliana v. United States. Kelsey Juliana is a young woman who lives in Eugene, Oregon, and her parents are very involved in the activist community there, and so she immediately latched onto the case when she heard about it. And Julia and Juliana – Julia the attorney and Kelsey Juliana the plaintiff – reached out to their networks and found more plaintiffs until they found the 21 who are part of the case.
In terms of the procedural history of what’s happened in court, the case hasn’t even gone to trial yet. What’s happened is, they filed the claim and the government filed some motions that would keep it from going to court. There are a number of motions they could file and they basically filed everything they could think of to try to keep it from going to the courtroom. And the years between 2015 and now were all of that happening, in terms of the district court hearing, what the government had to say about why the case shouldn’t go to trial, and then Judge Aiken saying, “No, the case should go to trial,” and then the government subsequently appealing that decision at the circuit level and then the Supreme Court level. So over three years, the trial hasn’t even begun yet.
BETWEEN THE LINES: The 21 plaintiffs represent a wide diversity of ages, ethnicities and locations from across the country. The youth were between 9 and 18 years old when the lawsuit was filed. I’ve interviewed several of them, and every one has been very well informed and articulate, which, you know, just reinforced my belief that it’s young people who are taking the lead to preserve life as we know it on earth – and of course they have the most to lose. I worked with Kelsey Juliana, the lead plaintiff, in a week of action in D.C. back in 2014 after she had participated in the cross-country Great March for Climate Action, and what impressed me – besides her commitment and her intelligence – was her joie de vivre. I remember her singing and dancing around the room as we did our training for non-violent civil disobedience. Paul Rink, do you know if the intention was to recruit such a diverse group?
PAUL RINK: I don’t believe there was an intention to come up with a certain number. What I do know is that they wanted the majority of the plaintiffs to be in Eugene for jurisdictional purposes. The goal was to file the case in the Eugene district court because they believed they had the best shot of getting a favorable ruling in that particular district, and so I think 11 of the 21 plaintiffs are from Oregon. Then, like you said, there’s a lot of geographical spread in terms of the other plaintiffs, and they were recruited either by reaching out to Our Children’s Trust themselves, or by hearing about it by word of mouth and being recruited by Julia.
BETWEEN THE LINES: What would happen if they win their lawsuit?
PAUL RINK: If they were to win, the government would be required to come up with a climate action recovery plan, which is desperately needed. But in a lot of senses, I think, the power of this case lies less in whether it wins or loses and much more so in creating this very tangible, ethical plea to have a greater spread of the public within the U.S. and abroad, not only trust that climate change is happening, but believe that it’s something that needs to be acted upon. I think there’s something really visceral about seeing these children stand up to their government for their right to life in the future. It makes a really strong moral narrative that I find really motivating and has the potential to tap into a lot of people that maybe have not considered climate change to be as big of an issue. And even if it doesn’t make them change their mind completely about what they’re going to do about climate change, maybe it would plant the seed that would create change in the future in their minds and hearts.