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Two of the plaintiffs in the landmark climate change lawsuit. (Photo: Our Children's Trust)

All Eyes on Oregon Courtroom Where It's "Small Children vs Big Oil"

'Governmental inaction on climate is no longer an option.'

Andrea Germanos

A large turnout is expected at a federal court in Eugene, Oregon on Wednesday where a judge will decide on whether or not to dismiss a landmark lawsuit brought by a group of 21 youths, along with noted climate scientist James Hansen, who charge that the federal government and fossil fuel industry have violated their constitutional rights.

The case is necessary, stated 19-year-old Kelsey Juliana, the youth plaintiff for whom the case is named, because "[g]overnmental inaction on climate is no longer an option."

And it may be, according to author and climate activist Naomi Klein, "the most important case on the planet right now."

The suit (pdf) charges that the defendants—including President Barack Obama and federal agencies including the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, and Environment Protection agency—by continuing "to permit, authorize, and subsidize fossil fuel extraction, development, consumption and exportation," thereby fueling a massive rise in atmospheric CO2, "have acted with deliberate indifference to the peril they knowingly created."

"As a result, Defendants have infringed on Plaintiffs' fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. Defendants' acts also discriminate against these young citizens, who will disproportionately experience the destabilized climate system in our country."

Powerful fossil fuel industry groups previously joined the suit as co-defendants to defeat the youths.

As 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben tweeted Tuesday, "it's literally small children vs. Big Oil."

"The federal government and the fossil fuel industry seek to get this case dismissed because they have known for decades that fossil fuels are destroying our climate system and harming our kids," stated Philip Gregory with the California law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, which is participating in the case.

The young plaintiffs, meanwhile, merely "ask their fundamental constitutional rights and their futures not be subordinated to corporate dollars," reads a press statement  from the Eugene, Ore.-based nonprofit Our Children's Trust, which is coordinating the youths' legal battle.

Image: Our Children's Trust

"We are telling our government that we have a constitutional right to survival, and no group of politicians or corporations can take those rights away from us or future generations," Juliana added.

Explaining what the youth are asking for in the suit, Julia Olson, lead counsel for the plaintiffs and Executive Director of Our Children’s Trust, explains that they seek "a meaningful remedy in the form of a science-based climate recovery plan. Because they recognize that it is the government's responsibility to create and implement a plan, they are not asking for a specific plan.

"But the government's plan must be based on science. And it must work," she continued. "Because a plan that does not work—or worse, and like we have now, no climate recovery plan at all—will mean a future for these youth that is simply unfathomable."

Based on the number of people expected to come in support of the case, a live-stream of the oral arguments will be brought into three overflow courtrooms at the Wayne Lyman Morse courthouse in Eugene, as well as to a courtroom in Portland, Ore., according to Curtis Morrison, a volunteer law clerk with Our Children’s Trust.

Our Children's Trust is live-tweeting some of the support outside the courtroom:


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