Juliana v. United States
This is the climate lawsuit.
By: Patrick Donovan – Author/Screenwriter
Seattle, WA (The Hollywood Times) 7/01/2019
“…We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children…”
Patrick Donovan has a rare interview with Phil Gregory who is co-lead counsel for the Youth Plaintiffs in the Juliana v. United States case on Climate Change. For thirty minutes, Pat and Phil discussed the case, what’s happening in this administration to literally cause more problems than solutions, and how you can help save our planet by getting involved in your local communities. Before the interview, transcribed by www.vocalmatic.com, here’s a bit of information on what Our Children’s Trust is about. Also, at the end of this article, please see the link to CBS News’ 60 Minutes segment with Steve Kroft.
Our Children’s Trust elevates the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere for the benefit of all present and future generations. Through its programs, youth participate in advocacy, public education and civic engagement to ensure the viability of all-natural systems in accordance with science.
The mission of Our Children’s Trust is to protect earth’s atmosphere and natural systems for present and future generations. Our Children’s Trust leads a game-changing legal campaign seeking systemic, science-based emissions reductions and climate recovery policy at all levels of government. Our Children’s Trust gives young people, those with most at stake in the climate crisis, a voice to favorably impact their futures.
THEIR GUIDING PRINCIPLES
- Our Children’s Trust advocates on behalf of youth and future generations.
- Our Children’s Trust advocates for legally-binding, science-based climate recovery policies.
Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana
Age: 23, Hometown: Eugene, Oregon
“I believe that climate change is the most pressing issue my generation will ever face, indeed that the world has ever faced. This is an environmental issue and it is also a human rights issue.”
Kelsey of Eugene, Oregon, has engaged in climate activism since age 10. When she was 15, she co-filed a lawsuit, with the support of nonprofit Our Children’s Trust, against the Oregon State Governor, asking for a climate emissions reduction plan and to protect the atmosphere under the public trust doctrine. By 16, Kelsey was a trainer and organizer for the Sierra Student Coalition’s organizing camp. Click to Read More about Kelsey.
Julia Olson – Executive Director & Chief Legal Counsel
Julia Olson graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, with a J.D. in 1997. For the first part of her 22-year career, Julia represented grassroots conservation groups working to protect the environment, organic agriculture, and human health. After becoming a mother, and realizing the greatest threat to her children and children everywhere was climate change, she focused her work on representing young people and elevating their voices on the issue that will most determine the quality of their lives and the well-being of all future generations. Click to Read More about Julia.
PAT: I’m speaking with Phil Gregory, co-lead counsel for the Youth Plaintiffs in the Juliana v. United States case. Welcome Phil and thank you for taking the time to speak to me today about such an important topic: Climate Change and your case regarding the 21 youth that are part of Juliana.
PHIL: My pleasure and thank you for having me.
PAT: Let’s get started. So, what I wanted to know is basically to help me give a great insight as to what’s going on. I saw the 60 Minutes thing and I was amazed. If you could just tell me more about that and how it all came about that’d be great.
PHIL: That being our case, that being 60 Minutes segment?
PAT: Both! The case, Juliana and the 60 Minutes segment. So, let’s start with the Juliana lawsuit. How did you come you come about to get in with the with that and I guess Julia Olson is the person that you’re working with too?
PHIL: Yes. So we’re back in 2010. I met with Julia along with a couple other people and the idea was to commence litigation based on a theory called the Public Trust Doctrine to go after the fossil fuel energy system. So what we were concerned about is not one saving one polar bear at a time or shutting down one power plant at a time, but rather going after the entire fossil fuel energy system. At the time we were going to proceed against the fossil fuel energy system based on the Public Trust Doctrine which is an attribute of sovereignty that goes back to Roman times for the times of Justinian and also in Old English law.
Under the Public Trust Doctrine, the Sovereign or, in our case the federal government, has a fiduciary or trust obligation to protect essential natural resources for present and future generations. And one of the essential natural resources obviously is the atmosphere and we were concerned about protecting the atmosphere from damage such that future generations will be able to enjoy a climate capable of sustaining human life. So we initially pursued the public trust Doctrine and later we filed the Juliana case which includes both the Public Trust Doctrine as well as constitutional claims under the Fifth Amendment for protection of life, liberty, and property.
PAT: Well, that’s amazing. And how is it going? I know I know that you guys are now got over 22 youth and the youngest is Leon…
PHIL: Wait, wait, wait, stop right there. It’s 21 plaintiffs and the youngest is Levi, Levi.
PAT: Levi. I apologize.
PHIL: That’s okay.
PAT: You know with regards to like the other next question to the voice of are youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere, how has this been going? How is the road to the success of this been going for you?
PHIL: It’s been very difficult because the federal government does not want to put the science on trial. The federal government is very well aware that, through its own documents and its own scientific reports, the evidence will show the federal government has known certainly since the mid-1960’s. So for over fifty years the federal government has known that our National fossil fuel energy system will create catastrophic climate change in this century. The federal government has known certainly of reports of the Scientific Advisory Committee for President Johnson, as well as reports of the then Chief Science Advisor, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, to President Nixon. Both of those reports indicate very clearly that a business-as-usual use of fossil fuels will create apocalyptic — and these are their words – apocalyptic climate change. They use the terms for sea level rise: Goodbye, New York. Goodbye, Washington.
The reason the current administration is attempting to keep this case from going to trial, is that they cannot put a witness up there that will dispute the science. If you notice people from the current administration refused to go under oath on the issue of Climate Change, because were they to testify about what “alternative facts,” on the witness stand alternative facts are perjury.
PAT: That’s right.
PHIL: So the current administration is scared to put witnesses on the witness stand and have the courts evaluate the science and the governments’ knowledge under oath.
PHIL: Their current stratagem is to try to claim that while Congress can do something about climate change and the President can do something about climate change, and we both know that this Congress and this President will do nothing but harm our climate, so the current stratagem is to say, the courts can do nothing about climate change. So I want to make sure that you understand: we have three branches of government…
PAT: We do!
PHIL: Even a grammar school student knows that.
PAT: That’s correct.
PHIL: And all branches act as checks and balances on the others, but this administration claims that the third branch of government, the Judiciary, or the Federal Courts, can doing “NOTHING”, that the Supreme Court can do “NOTHING” about climate change, that the Courts of Appeals can doing “NOTHING” about climate change, that the District Courts can do “NOTHING” about climate change. To me, that sort of thing of smacks of tyranny to keep the court stopping the president from engaging in unconstitutional, conduct. That’s why our courts exist.
PAT: Exactly! And they have been working in some cases, I believe but and it’s getting tougher and tougher as long as this Administration stays in power and I agree with you on that. The other thing is I’ve heard so many stories, that we have only about fifty years or less before we tip over the point of no return. Is this true and with your movement growing is it going to be fast enough to halt what we’re doing?
PHIL: Well, the key thing, no one can predict how much time we have, because humans have never encountered anything like this. So the warming of the atmosphere, where we are right now, the last time we were here, there were no humans on the earth, so we have no idea how quickly the ice is going to melt. We have no idea how quickly the sea level’s going to rise. They [the scientists] can only engage in predictions based on occurrences that happened thousands of years ago.
CO2 is increasing today at least 10 times faster than the most rapid known prior change in Earth’s history, Right now, if someone tells you we have fifty years, he or she doesn’t really know because we don’t know how many — how much more fossil fuel emissions we’re going to put into the atmosphere. The process controlled by humans, fossil fuel emissions, will dominate the climate impacts of global warming. The potential danger of this situation if high emissions continue is clear and the current administration knows it. The task is to reduce emissions faster than Earth responds to the energy imbalance. And our effort right now is simply that stopping fossil fuels from getting into the atmosphere is urgent and needs to occur right now. While we can certainly have a gradual change and wind down, our federal government does not need to issue new coal leases for example or new pipelines, or new offshore leases for fossil fuels because what it’s doing, it’s not just exacerbated used in the United States but we’re exporting these fossil fuels so that other countries can use the fossil fuels.
PAT: Understood. Like I said my other question, I’m a weather buff, you know, I’ve been really getting engaged in weather and worked at the Pentagon when I was in the Navy actually creating the weather maps for the morning OP/INTEL briefs, but you know people think that weather is changing and climate is different or they are the same but they’re not. Weather is day-by-day and climate is holistic over time. So what must we do to bring those from the Darkside into the climate believers and help them see the light so to speak?
PHIL: Well, yeah, a great way of providing an analogy to weather versus climate is weather is what you are wearing today to deal with what’s going on outside today. Climate is what you have in your closet to deal with the time a year you’re in; the season of the year. So during the winter theoretically, you’re going to have warm clothes and, in the summer, you’re going have flip flops and shorts.
PAT: That’s a beautiful analogy. I think it’s great.
PHIL: What people are starting to experience are the fact that extreme weather events are occurring. These events are traumatic and are affecting their lives. So, if you talk to a farmer right now in Iowa dealing with the flooding or in Missouri or are other states that are dealing with the recent flooding, you’re talking to someone who is dealing with an extreme weather event. And there they begin to recognize that we are not dealing with seasonal variation like what occurred 20 to 30 years ago. We’re dealing with conditions that make their ability to farm, much, much more difficult and you’re beginning to see, if you look talk to the individual farmer, he or she will tell you that the extreme weather events are playing havoc with their ability to successfully operate a farm.
PAT: That’s correct. And you know, I noticed that I’ve read and researched and heard a lot of stories about what’s happening in the Midwest in the ah different parts of the country like you state and you know, you have your pathway to climate recovery and I looked at that it’s really quite aggressive. But it needs to be and I looked at also that there are a hundred ninety-five countries on the planet and of those countries, I looked at and you saw in my notes that we have this list of United States Russian Federation China lower western part of South America Saudi Arabia are insufficient or critically insufficient or highly insufficient and there are only two countries that are compatible with the Paris Accords: Morocco and The Gambia. I mean, you have an incredible mountain to climb here to get the other 193 countries in in step. What are we going to do? How are we going to accomplish this?
PHIL: Well, well, one key fact to be aware of is, for example, during the first President Bush, George H W Bush, during his presidency, our federal government said to the world that the United States was going to take the lead on the climate. President George H W Bush said that. And other nations have looked the United States [to] take the lead because that’s what we’ve said that’s we were going to do. We have acted like we were going to lead, and so other countries look to us to lead. But right now we are leading from behind. We are doing more to ‘harm’ the climate as countries like China and India. And historically, the United States has been the largest fossil fuel emitter. So other nations are looking for us to take a leadership role and we’re not. That failure of a leadership role is what the youth of America are most upset about.
Despite uncontroverted science we are not taking a leadership role and our youth are saying to our politicians and our business leaders: The science says that we [the youth] are going to be severely damaged in the future unless you do something about it now. What are you doing? And the politicians are doing nothing! The Business Leaders are doing ‘nothing’ to effectively get the United States into a leadership role. The United States must take a leadership role in fossil fuel emissions being reduced.
And as a result, the youth, not only of America but throughout the world, are saying we need a drastic change, otherwise we are going to be facing incredible, incredible economic and security issues. That’s why youth activism is the key to the climate movement and the primary example of youth activism is the Juliana case.
PAT: I am so amazed that when she was born, I remember that in the 60 Minutes segment, I guess her parents took her to something as a baby and now here she is today the major focus of this climate case. It’s totally amazing and I worry about my son and grandson and that is mentioned this poignant statement: “We don’t inherit the world from our ancestors, but we borrow it from our children”. There seems to be no hope with over 16 billion pounds of plastic dumped in the ocean every year, more fires, devastating floods, oceans rising and get this, thirty glaciers out of the hundred and fifty in Glacier National Park that President Taft created, are gone. They’re not coming back.
PHIL: That’s the key thing, that’s the key thing! These essential natural resources are gone and they’re not coming back and so the change that this administration is inflicting on our climate has, in a large part, caused things that are irreversible.
PAT: Well you said the change but how about the lack of change that this Administration is doing the lack of any action, you know that they’re doing is causing and I agree with you one hundred percent on that.
PHIL: Yeah, and I want to make sure you’re clear that Juliana is not about government inaction, our case is about federal government actions that are actively working to make our climate situation worse. It’s actively promoting the Fossil Fuel Energy System knowing this national system will have irreversible effects on the youngest and future generations.
PAT: Well listen, getting me into the meat of the interview, tell me more about the Juliana case the lawsuit and do you believe your win in the Supreme Court and what is your status right now?
PHIL: Sure, so right now our case is on appeal to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. We had oral arguments on June 4th, 2019 before a three-judge panel in Portland, Oregon and were we to win as a result, our case could either go to the Supreme Court or it could be sent back down to go to trial before federal judge Ann Aiken for the United States District Court for Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. We previously had a trial date of October 29th, 2018 but the United States Supreme Court issued an order from Chief Justice Roberts halting the trial at the last minute and then that order was lifted several days later but we, as a result, lost our trial date.
We’re hoping the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sends the case back down to trial. But even if we go before the Supreme Court, this case is based on fundamental, traditional, constitutional principles and those principles are based on the Fifth Amendment in the Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment says that our government cannot harm citizens lives, liberties, or property. Yet that’s what this federal government is doing right now, knowingly engaging in conduct that shocks the conscience and it particularly shocks the conscience of the youth of America.
PAT: Yeah it is quite considerably, and you know, we as citizens can help you in the way but we need to know…and I saw something on your website about calling and engaging your legislators. But do they really care do they ever listen and how can we get anything past Mitch McConnell and the Senate, especially HR 12:43 and 3:30. What do you think we can do for them to actually do something?
PHIL: Well first off, right now, with this Senate, these Republicans will do nothing to help the youth of America. And so it is up to the youth of America, in particular, because they’re going to be the ones most affected. It won’t be the “geezers” of America who suffer the most harm from climate change, but it’s our youth and they need to get out there and make sure that their parents and grandparents across the nation, throw out the Republicans who are saying that they will do “NOTHING” about climate change and they will do “EVERYTHING” to help the fossil fuel industry, which is funding their political campaigns.
And if “geezers” care, they too will go out and they will make sure that there’s new legislative blood in Congress that is prepared to take the drastic steps to deal with climate change. Remember, let’s look back to the Civil Rights Movement. It wasn’t until the kids in Birmingham, Alabama were marching in the streets and they were being attacked by police dogs and fire hoses on camera that our country started to deal with civil rights. So right now our youth need to put down their video consoles and they need to go out there and they need to say look: This is going to be a huge problem for us. You need to deal with it right now! If not, we’re going to make sure you’re not elected ever again! And they need to do that on a local scale. But if they sit around on their hands, then the “geezers” are going to keep using fossil fuels on a business-as-usual basis and the science will dictate what happens to our country. This Congress can’t legislate around the law of gravity. This Congress can’t legislate around the scientific principles that state climate change will be a complete apocalyptic disaster for the youth of America.
PAT: That’s 100% correct and I stand with you on that. In conclusion, is there anything else you feel as citizens that we can do in our local communities and towns… I mean that we can do to really make a difference and not just talk but walk the talk. What can you say in conclusion?
PHIL: Sure! In your towns, are they using renewable energy? Are your governmental bodies; your schools using renewable energy? Are teachers teaching the importance of the science of climate change? Are newspapers burying stories about climate change? Are they putting [climate change] front and center on the front page? What people can do is make sure that they are going to be the squeaky wheel here. Are they going to go out and cause their newspapers, their television and radio stations to confront climate change and do something about it?
Because each solar panel, each use of wind turbines, stopping driving a fossil fuel car and driving an electric car in its place, means that anyone, any company that does that it helps and people may say, that, that’s just a drop in the ocean but that’s how the ocean got to be there by a lot of drops.
PAT: [chuckles] Exactly, that is so true! I want to tell you I am so grateful for this opportunity to speak to you. It’s been a complete pleasure and I commend you for what you’re doing and support you and your efforts to get change made and I wish you the best of everything as you go up against Supreme Court and getting us back down to where it belongs in the local jurisdiction and Judge Ann Akins and hopes you get the best.
PHIL: Thank you for writing about us. Please stay in touch and please send me anything that you end up writing about the Juliana case. Thank you!
Photo Credits: Our Children’s Trust Website
Watch the 60 Minutes Segment: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/juliana-versus-united-states-climate-change-lawsuit-60-minutes-2019-06-23/.
Watch the March 2019 #YouthClimateStrike in Eugene: https://vimeo.com/325086068
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