The United States District Court for the District of Oregon was scheduled to hear a high profile climate lawsuit yesterday, but last week–Juliana vs. the United States–was put on hold. The 21 youth plaintiffs are suing the federal government for harming the climate. Youth in Sitka think their case is on the right track and held a climate rally in solidarity.
The Millennial Generation is many things, more likely to stream music online than tune into the radio. But they’re also the generation that has contributed to climate change the least and will be impacted the most. Some of them are outraged — and organized.
Ella Lubin, a Sitka High School student, stood in front of a podium in front of the Sitka Courthouse as the sun set on Monday (10-29-18). She was one of six speakers addressing a crowd of 100 at youth-led climate rally to support Juliana vs. the United States.
“Already I’ve witnessed shifting and altered seasons in Sitka and the effects that has on herring, [yellow] cedar, and the community that depends on it. For too long, past generations have stood by and let big companies and the government regulate land use in a way that only focuses on reaping the largest financial gain,” Lubin said as those listening cheered. “We have a chance as the newest voters, the newest leaders, and the newest citizens of our country to change that.”
The 21 youth plaintiffs are alleging that the government failed to curtail fossil fuel emissions and protect natural resources in public trust, violating the youngest generation’s rights to life, liberty, and property. The claims bring a whole generation into the fray of climate litigation as change to the planet knocks at their door. That’s certainly true for Alexis Rexford, a Mt. Edgecumbe student from Gambell with a front row seat to melting sea ice. “This not only affects marine and wildlife, but it significantly impacts our subsistence ways of life that we have lived since time immemorial,” Rexford said.
Rather than expect communities to adapt, these youth want something bolder: for the federal government to adopt a science-based climate recovery plan that reduces carbon emissions.
Pacific High School student Killian DeTemple told the crowd that, “the current predicament is not born of plastic straws and car combustion engines.” He added, “Those contributing most to the state of the world are not those in our homes and daily lives, but those in corporate offices and executive meetings. It is these people who bleed the byproduct of their profit into our oceans and waterways, suffocate our atmosphere with our carbon haze and pretend like they care while doing all of it. As individuals, our voice may not always feel heard and to corporations even less so. But this cannot stop us.”
DeTemple plans to go into conservation as a career after graduating in the spring. The words of the youth stirred Sitkan Richard Nelson to tears. Nelson is a longtime environmental activist and one of the speaker’s at Monday’s event. “Not crying out sadness — but crying out of joy, crying out of hopeThat’s what all these young faces give to us older faces, I think. What I found as a I grew older was the antidote to the pain I was feeling was action,” Nelson said.
The group took pictures. One was a standard group shot, but instead of saying cheese, the shouted in unison, “Let’s adopt a science-based climate recovery plan!”
The other photo took its cue from the Alaskan environment: a muskoxen defense circle. When muskoxen are facing a predator, the adults form a circle around the children. Adult organizer Doug Osborne told attendees to follow suit. Those under 21 gathered on the lawn and introduced themselves to one another while the adults surrounded them.
The image – which Osborne plans to send to the non-profit 350.org – is one he wishes Unite States leadership would emulate in real life. “We’re not circling up around our young people. We’re kind of doing the opposite of the musk ox. So for a moment, I wanted these young people to see what it would be like to be surrounded in a very positive protective circle, which is how it should be,” Osborne said.
Of the 21 plaintiffs, there is one Alaskan – Nathan Bering of Fairbanks. While he was not at the event, Osborne hopes he sees the photos so he knows a group of youth in Sitka are rooting for a case that concerns them too.