Eighteen children from California are suing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating their constitutional rights and for playing an “intentional” role in exacerbating climate change and burdening youth with a “lifetime of hardship.”
The legal challenge is the latest youth-led climate change lawsuit.
Climate change disproportionately harms children
The focus on children in climate change litigation is particularly important because they are “disproportionately harmed” by its effects, Mat dos Santos, an attorney from the non-profit law firm Our Children’s Trust, told the ACLU’s At Liberty podcast. Because their bodies are still developing, they are “harmed by pollution in a way” that older bodies aren’t, he added. A judge in Montana recently agreed with the law firm’s argument that young people suffer “injustices wrought by climate change.” The victory in the youth-led Montana climate change lawsuit marked the first time a U.S. court asserted that the government was constitutionally obligated to protect people from climate change.
California’s extreme weather is affecting children’s education
The lawsuit — Genesis B. vs the EPA — is named after a California teen, Genesis, whose family could not afford an air conditioner and who was unable to focus on her school work during the state’s increasingly hot days. Other plaintiffs described having to breathe in toxic wildfire smoke and evacuate their homes due to climate-driven extreme weather. “We are running from wildfires, being displaced by floods, panicking in hot classrooms during another heat wave,” one 15-year-old plaintiff said. This year alone, California has been hit with floods from more than 30 atmospheric river storms and Tropical Storm Hilary, with researchers tying the worsened impact to climate change. Between 1984 and 2015, the number of wildfires has doubled in the western United States, as climate change created drier and more active fire seasons. More than 1,900 California schools closed down in 2018-19 due to wildfires.