By Stephanie Corkran of SanDiego350, and these six young people of San Diego who were interviewed.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from the children” is a quote attributed to the iconic environmentalist David Brower. Isn’t it time that we listen to what the children have to say? After all, they will be the ones who will inherit an overheated planet with extreme weather events, including intense storms, floods, droughts, and sea level rise.
The big question is: Will the children will have their say in court? Juliana v. U.S. is a constitutional climate lawsuit filed by 21 youths, ages 11 to 22. Since climate change is the overarching issue of our times (and perhaps of all time for our species), Juliana v. U.S. may well become the “trial of the century”.
The Trump administration, along with the fossil fuel companies, have attempted various legal tactics to kill the lawsuit and repeatedly failed. On July 30, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of allowing the case to be heard. The trial was scheduled to start today, October 29th, however, ten days before the Supreme issued a temporary stay in response to a second petition by the government.
The children’s lawsuit asserts that the U.S. government, through its affirmative actions in creating a national energy system that causes climate change, is depriving the youngest generation of the constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. In addition, the government has a duty to protect essential public trust resources for future generations.
If successful, the children’s lawsuit would compel our government to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The scale of societal change needed necessitates that our government provides the infrastructure and funding to facilitate a rapid transition to a fossil-free economy.
What Young San Diegans Have to Say About Climate Change
As a volunteer for SanDiego350, I interviewed six young people to discover their views about climate change and the court case. I spoke with Meg, a 23-year-old college student from Rancho Penasquitos and El, a 17-year-old high school student from El Cajon. I also spoke with four younger children: Alex and Max from Escondido (both 12 years), Avery (10 years) from El Cajon, and Danica (10 years) from PB.
For readability, I have grouped their responses under each question I asked of them. Some of their responses were very similar; these ones I have paraphrased and identified as a “Consensus” response.
What do you think of when you hear the words “climate change”?
Consensus: The environment and the weather. How people are polluting by burning oil and the earth is getting hotter.
“That it is getting hotter and the animals are dying, like polar bears dying due to melting ice. I am very sad about the polar bears and the Amazon.” (Alex)
“I think of the plants and animals being harmed by climate change; humans are being selfish.” (El)
Do you think we (the government /adults) are doing enough to fight climate change?
“No one is doing enough, not even those who believe in climate change. Not everyone is an activist or needs to be, but everyone needs to do something. Earth Day is not enough.” (El)
“Even worse we are going backward- reforms put in place were wiped out so that more coal and oil could be used.” (Alex)
“I do think of all the people that are trying to help, like my mom who volunteers for SanDiego350. So the lower ranks of people yes, but those in power no.” (Max)
If not – why do you think this is? What are the obstacles?
Consensus: For the people in our government climate change is not the priority. Our government and the world are dominated by corporations. People worldwide are causing climate change but only a small group of people are trying to change it. They cannot do it alone.
“People get a lot of money from oil; they are not caring about the world but instead how much money they get from selling stuff that pollutes. This worries me.” (Danica)
“Human nature and the fact we are driven by greed is a problem.” (Max)
What are some of the things you think we should be doing to fight climate change?
Consensus: Bring back reforms that were reversed and rejoin the Paris Climate Accords.
We need to teach climate change in schools at a young age. Educate.
“Try different angles to get the message out like posting videos on youtube, because a lot of people watch youtube.” (Max)
“Reduce plastic use by using reusable water bottles and have more water refilling stations. Research the brands you are buying to use your purchasing power to effect change.” (Meg)
“Stop selling oil! Create something that replaces oil that does not pollute (electric vehicles, plant-based biofuel, solar, wind).” (Danica)
Are there things that you are personally doing to address climate change?
Consensus: My career will be focussed on fighting climate change. I speak the truth to other kids and try to get them involved. When I hear people are misinformed I educate them.
“I told my mom we should not buy plastic, instead we should buy glass containers or use refillable containers for shampoo, etc.” (Danica)
I attend climate marches and rallies. I volunteer with SanDiego350 (Avery has volunteered since she was 7 years old).
What do you want to tell the judge hearing the children’s court case?
“Changing policies are the only way to save the planet and other nations are way ahead of us.” (Meg)
“Try to make people take better care of the earth.” (Avery)
“If the government tells you they are doing enough for climate change tell them to prove it, make them give evidence.” (Danica)
“Please – just look at the facts.” (Max)
Do you feel your rights are being violated by climate change inaction?
“Yes my rights are being violated, as we are in the midst of the 6th great extinction on this planet. My generation will be the most affected by climate change and we don’t want continued fossil fuel extraction.” (Meg)
“You are violating my rights because the planet will be worse for me after you die. We need to do this before civilization collapses. I and my family will have to live with this.” (Alex)
“The purpose of government is to protect and serve the people. They are not doing this when they ignore climate change.” (El)
What do you want to tell the kids/plaintiffs who filed this case?
Consensus: You’re my heroes. Thank you for standing up for my rights. In a time when many are apathetic, what you are doing is very powerful.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
“People should get educated. I try whenever possible to spread the message at school” (Meg)
“Government should find climate scientists to guide policy and make sure the public is informed. This needs to be a front and center issue.” (El)
“We need to pass laws to plant trees whenever one is cut down, because they give us air.” (Alex)
Listen to the Children
The young people who participated in these interviews are well versed in the climate change catastrophe and how it is impacting our planet. They expressed feelings of worry and sadness about their future. As Meg stated, “To be blunt – climate change is the destruction of the earth. This is happening now and nothing is being done about it.”
As an individual, every decision you make going forward needs to further the chance of a livable planet for our grandchildren. On November 6th, we will have the opportunity to vote for leaders who respect the overwhelming evidence of climate science, are willing to use their political capital to transition the country to clean energy and a sustainable future, and to do so at warp speed. Let us heed Avery’s warning: “Humans are causing their own extinction. Do something about it before it is too late!”
About the Author:
Stephanie Corkran, MA, is an anthropologist who works in research at UCSD and a volunteer of SanDiego350. As a Coast Guard veteran, she previously enforced environmental law and responded to oil and hazardous material spills, including the Exxon Valdez oil spill. She supports a vision of social justice that considers the needs of all life, human and non-human.
About the Interview Process:
The interviews (by phone or in person) were not transcribed verbatim but main themes were captured. For the younger interviewees there was some communication to ensure I understood what they meant to convey. Sometimes I suggested language substitutions that they agreed to, but the concepts are theirs alone. I attempted to group related responses together to improve readability.
Note from Meg:
Meg recommends the following books to read: Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward Wilson, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein.