Kids rally as climate trial’s fate remains murky

Source: Benjamin Hulac, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Kallan Benson, a 14-year-old climate activist from Maryland, stood in front of the Supreme Court yesterday and sang her version of the pop song “Happy” by Pharrell Williams.

“Global warming,” she sang to an audience of several dozen, “clap along if you know it comes from fossil fuels.”

Moments before, Benson said she viewed the sunny-day flooding she and her grandfather had to drive through in her state as an example of climate change.

“I see it, and you do too, even though you might not recognize it,” she said. “Is this what it’s like now, what it’s going to look like 10, 20, 30 years from now?”

In a nationwide effort of solidarity, climate groups and environmental advocates held rallies nationwide yesterday in support of the plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States, a federal climate change lawsuit that seeks to upend how the United States taps into and consumes energy.

Plaintiffs in the case, 21 children and young adults, sued the federal government in 2015, accusing it of violating civil rights to live in a safe climate and endangering natural resources. They’ve asked for a court-ordered mandate for the government to phase out fossil fuels.

The trial in the case, which has been widely spurned by industry, was supposed to begin in a federal courthouse in Oregon yesterday. But Chief Justice John Roberts temporarily stayed proceedings on Oct. 19, throwing the future of the case into uncertainty (E&E News PM, Oct. 24).

Our Children’s Trust, the advocacy group behind the case, organized the rallies, with help from chapters of 350.org and Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

In all, there were 62 rallies yesterday, held in every state and most in front of courthouses, according to Graham Clumpner, an organizer for Our Children’s Trust. Some rallies took place at schools or city government buildings.

Speaking at the same D.C. rally as Benson, Tom Wetterer, general counsel of Greenpeace USA, was optimistic that the trial will be held eventually. He said the government’s concern about the trial was evident in the multiple attempts by Justice Department attorneys to derail it.

“We’re going to win it,” he said to cheers from the crowd.

Many of the audience members, though, were not familiar with the details of the case, and some thought the trial was still scheduled. Wetterer explained the basics of the lawsuit and criticized President Trump, who has sought to dismantle climate policies. The defendants are federal agencies, he said, “currently led by you-know-who.”

“People are standing with the youth across the country,” he said.

Jerome Foster II, a teenager and climate advocate who attends school in D.C., bellowed out a speech after Benson.

Speaking at turns to the crowd, his generation and the U.S. government, he warned that teens would soon be able to vote.

“We are tired of our marching not being taken seriously,” Foster said. “Something must be done to stop the destruction and start the rebuilding.”

Mary Ann Smith, who is in her 80s, stood toward the back of the horseshoe that formed around the speakers up front. She lamented the idea, often from oil companies, that climate change can be fixed with an engineering solution.

“We thought that we were going to give people the facts, and it would make a difference,” Smith said of her generation and its climate science history. “There isn’t a technical fix for this.”

Jason Slattery, mentoring program director of the DC Dream Center and Southeast White House, said he heard about the rally through 350.org.

The kids who spoke, and Foster in particular, impressed him. But he came to the rally after learning about the findings from the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations panel of top scientists.

“It’s pretty devastating,” Slattery said of the report, which found the world is not on pace to avert dire consequences of climate change.

“I’m really grappling with how to respond personally,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

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