Two University of Oregon juniors are among 21 plaintiffs suing the federal government over carbon dioxide emissions. Last week a federal judge declined the Trump Administration’s appeal and attempt to delay the case further and announced a trial date of October 29.
Filed in 2015 against the Obama administration, the complaint in the lawsuit reads, “In spite of knowing of the severe dangers posed by carbon pollution, defendants created and enhanced the dangers through fossil fuel extraction, production, consumption, transportation and exportation.”
Social justice and climate change activism have been passions of lead plaintiff and UO student Kelsey Juliana since she was 14.
“As I grew up and learned more about climate change, I realized this would be kind of like my issue I would take on because it impacts every facet of my life and certainly every facet of the lives of future generations to come,” said Juliana.
Juliana said she wants to be a teacher, so this issue will continue to be important to her as “climate change will continue to disproportionately affect younger people as this crisis gets worse.”
This lawsuit moving forward represents her years of hard work with another lawsuit of hers against the state of Oregon filed in 2011, also asking for a change in carbon emission legislation.
“For seven years now, I’ve been waiting for my chance to go in front of a judge, asking for the state of Oregon to reduce our carbon emissions,” she said. “All we want is for the courts to enforce a plan to reduce carbon emissions by a set goal in the state of Oregon.”
Juliana noted the federal case has moved much faster than the state case — only taking about two years to get a trial date with her 20 fellow plaintiffs.
“Both federal judges we’ve heard from have made it very very clear we will be going to trial October 29, and both sides better be ready because there are no more delays,” she said.
Fellow plaintiff and UO student Tia Hatton said she got involved in activism when she started to notice the effects of climate change in her hometown of Bend, Oregon.
“After my senior year of high school, we had a really bad year of snow,” said Hatton. “I didn’t know much about climate change, and when I was growing up, it was met with the idea that the science wasn’t clear. I started looking into the causes and the science and I saw it was very certain, and that’s when I got really interested.”
While she said she has high hopes for this trial to create change, Hatton said it’s not as simple as winning a trial and immediately seeing a difference.
“Even if we are successful at trial, it’ll probably take more time to urge those entities, like the EPA and the Department of Transportation, to actually implement the changes that we want, so it’ll probably be a long time that I’m involved in this,” she said. “But I do think since that’s a federal action that it can trickle down into locals taking action.”
Hatton described herself as one of the more “hesitant” plaintiffs when signing on with this case because she initially didn’t have the support of her parents.
“I wasn’t as involved in climate activism before, so I felt like I was a little more of an outsider than some of the other plaintiffs like Kelsey, who’s been doing work since she was 10,” said Hatton.
While both Juliana and Hatton said they try not to look at negative comments online, some of the other plaintiffs coming from other states have received some harsh feedback, including the loss of friends who don’t talk to them anymore.
“I consider myself pretty lucky to be living in this community that’s very supportive of us,” said Hatton.
The plaintiffs on the suit are represented by Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit organization representing youth seeking climate change legislation.
According to Hatton, Leonardo DiCaprio is expected to come to the trail at the federal courthouse in Eugene.
Editor’s note: This post has been edited for clarity.