'We are the ones we've been waiting for.'
Out of all the things teenagers are known to do, suing the U.S. government isn't one of them.
Go ahead and add it to the list.
15-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez and 20 other young people ages 8 to 20 have sued the government for its inaction on climate change — and so far they've been successful. This is, needless to say, unprecedented.
"Judge Coffin decided our Complaint will move forward and put climate science squarely in front of the federal courts," said the plaintiffs' attorney, Philip Gregory.
The 21 young plaintiffs argue that this case is about their constitutional right to life, liberty, and property and that the government hasknown for decades that carbon dioxide pollution has been causing catastrophic climate change. Even with that knowledge, the government has failed to take action and do something about it to help future generations. In fact, the youths' complaint alleges the government has taken definite actions to make climate change worse.
They are having none of that.
When you hear Xiuhtezcatl talk, you realize it was only a matter of time.
Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced "shu-TEZ-cuht") has been leading a youth movement to save the planet since he was ordering from the kids menu at the age of 6. He has assembled a global army of young people over the years with his organization Earth Guardians (which just keeps growing bigger!) to demand sustainable policy from world leaders. The Colorado-based organization has over 1,800 crews on six continents — and counting, partially thanks to social media.
In 2014, Xiuhtezcatl founded Rising Youth for Sustainable Environment (RYSE), a youth council that helps to plan, train, and execute an agenda to help combat climate change. Between the council's role in this federal lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of them by Our Children’s Trust, and the lawsuits they have on the way in other sates, it's clear they are onto something.
Not only does the lawsuit put pressure on world leaders, but the fossil fuel industry must also take it — and young people — seriously. Boom.
"When those in power stand alongside thevery industries that threaten the future of my generation instead of standing with the people, it is areminder that they are not our leaders," said Xiuhtezcatl. "The real leaders are the twenty youth standing with me in court todemand justice for my generation and justice for all youth."
For now, the plaintiffs have only been granted permission to argue the case in federal court. But hey, you have to start somewhere.
"Never before in the history of our laws have we seen a coordinated set of legal actions on this scale," said University of Oregon law professor Mary Wood.
It's inspiring to see these young people stand up for their generation and those that will follow. But when you talk to Xiuhtezcatl, you're reminded that they've been forced into this situation. Leaders have failed to act on climate change, so it's up to them to do something about it.
As he puts it, "We are the ones we've been waiting for."
So they'll do it themselves.