Youths Appeal Climate Case Against Washington State

Seattle air pollution
Industrial emissions cloud Seattle air and obscure Mount Rainier, May 30, 2012 (Photo by Kiah Patzkowsky)


SEATTLE, Washington, August 1, 2012 (ENS) – Six teenaged petitioners and their guardians Tuesday appealed their climate change lawsuit to the Washington State Supreme Court after a King County Superior Court judge dismissed the case.

The lawsuit against Governor Chris Gregoire and the heads of three state agencies is part of a series of coordinated legal actions in all 50 states to compel government action on climate change to protect the atmosphere for future generations.

These legal actions and the petitioners’ case are based on the public trust doctrine, which holds that government has a legal obligation to protect the resources that are essential for human survival and prosperity for the benefit of all.

The public trust doctrine maintains that these essential resources – rivers, groundwater, the seashore and in this case, the atmosphere – cannot be privatized or substantially impaired because they belong to everyone equally, even to those not yet born.

Seattle air pollution
Industrial emissions cloud Seattle air and obscure Mount Rainier, May 30, 2012 (Photo by Kiah Patzkowsky)

The petitioners argue that the government of Washington State cannot allow the privatization of the atmosphere by the wealthy and politically-connected corporations.

In legal documents presented to the State Supreme Court, the teenagers state, “The principle underlying the public trust doctrine can be traced from Roman Law through the Magna Carta to present-day jurisprudence.”

The doctrine is “rooted in the precept that some resources are so central to the well-being of the community that they must be protected by distinctive, judge-made principles,” their lawsuit states.

Petitioners Adora Svitak, Tallyn Lord, Harper Lord, Anna Iglitzin, Jacob Iglitzin, and Colin Sacket, acting by and through their respective guardians, are seeking several declarations from the court.

They want the court to declare that the atmosphere is a public trust resource, and that the State of Washington has a legal obligation, defined by best available science, to take affirmative action to protect the atmosphere and other public trust resources from greenhouse gas emissions.

They also want the court to declare that the State is breaching its fiduciary duty to protect public trust resources. Finally, they are seeking and order from the court directing the State to fulfill its public trust responsibilities by implementing an emissions reduction plan.

“Time is of the essence,” says the youths’ attorney Andrea Rodgers Harris. “Every day the State kicks the can down the road for future generations to address the climate crisis, it gets more likely that the public trust resources of this State will continue to be impaired to the point of destruction.”

In their appeal, the teenagers use Governor Gregoire’s own warning that “Washington is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change” to make their case.

“Our children will be forced to address unprecedented crises since their government has failed to take meaningful action to protect their interests in the critical natural resources of the state,” said Joyce Svitak, the mother of 14-year-old petitioner Adora Svitak.

Adora Svitak
Adora Svitak is one of six teens suing the State of Washington. (Photo by Young Audiences MD)

Adora is a member of the iMatter Youth Council, a network of youth climate activists who stand up for their right to a sustainable future. She has delivered a TED lecture and coordinates a TEDx conference, and she is an internationally published author, known for her essays, stories, poems, blogs, and full-length books. She has appeared on national and international media, including CNN, NBC, ABC, Voice of America, and the BBC.

The Atmospheric Trust Legal Effort is coordinated and supported by the nonprofit group Our Children’s Trust whose members are mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, teachers. “We are adults, part of the ruling generation, and we care about the future of our children – and their children’s children,” the group explained in a statement announcing the appeal.

NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen submitted a declaration supporting the youths’ appeal to the Washington Supreme Court in which he states, “Further delay of meaningful action to address climate change vastly increases the risk of irretrievable damage to the climate system. Delaying action to return the atmospheric CO2 concentration to approximately 350 ppm by the end of the century may doom the prospect of stabilizing the Earth’s climate system and mitigating human suffering.”

Several faith-based groups submitted a brief in support of the youths, arguing that the inequities of climate change threaten human rights and that international human rights law is applicable in this Atmospheric Trust Litigation case.

In their brief the groups draw the court’s attention to “the important link between climate-induced rights impacts and the diverse calls of faith-based communities for moral action on climate change.”

The faith-based groups signing the amicus brief include: the Evangelical Lutheran Church Faith Action Network, the Pacific Northwest Conference of Christ, the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Right Reverend Gregory Rickel, VIII Bishop of Olympia, the Episcopal Church in western Washington, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Peace and Washington Unitarian Universalist Voices for Justice.

“The time for the State to act is now,” said attorney Harris, “and the public trust doctrine is the source of law that requires the State to act.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2012. All rights reserved.

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