By now, most of us, have begun to accept the reality of climate change and the tragedy of the commons that occurs with that. By ‘tragedy of the commons’ I refer to an economic theory which states that within a shared-resource system where individual users acting independently and rationally according to their own self-interest will behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting that resource. In this case, the commons this blog post refers to are the animals threatened by climate change as far away as the Antarctic and as close to home as the coal plant that can be found only a few miles out of town. However, there are more living entities that are effected by climate change, and who for so long have been silenced by the powerful private sectors who seek only capital gain. Those who I am referring to, are the children, the children’s children, and those yet to be born. Those who will be truly effected by the horrors of climate change that we are only now seeing the effects of take hold.
That being said, a trend has begun. A change within the system. Millennials, all over the country have turned to their last, and unforeseen ally—the judicial branch. In a time of special interest, and bloated campaign costs, the role of the judicial branch has been expanded to speak on behalf of those generations to come. Those generations who are forced to bear the weight of a government who can’t act fast enough to meet the growing costs of irresponsible and not so stringent environmental laws.
In the last couple of years, we’ve seen an explosion in the amount of millennials turning to litigation as their only weapon against a powerful opponent. More specifically I am referring to three landmark cases: a suit by high-schoolers against the Massachusetts state government, Washington state government, and the Oregon state government.
In the Massachusetts case, the supreme court judge found that the government wasn’t doing enough to reach its greenhouse gas emission cuts set forth in the 90’s. In the Washington case the superior court ordered the department of ecology to create rules to reduce greenhouse gas by the end of 2016, and to make recommendations to the state legislature during the 2017 sessions. In Oregon, 21 plaintiffs from the ages of eight all the way to nineteen were successful in their lawsuit which argued that the federal government is violating the plaintiff’s constitutional and public trust rights by promoting the use of fossil fuels.
In the final case mentioned, a precedent was set. Our voices, the millennials, not only count, but carry weight as we are the bearers of an unkind future if we continue at the current rate. A variety of other cases have been put forth with varying levels of success, however one thing is certain if proactive change is to occur it will land in the hands of the generation who has the most to lose.