The Right to a Carbon-Free Life


These past few weeks have seemed like environmental Armageddon, the Bahamas were destroyed, protests were held around the globe, and the new U.N. climate report came out warning that many effects of global warming are now irreversible. In light of these events, and the general ignorance of politicians over the last few years, Swedish climate activist and Nobel prize nominee Greta Thunberg has filed a human rights lawsuit against the United Nations. Thunberg, and fifteen other kids, ranging in age from eight to seventeen, from twelve different countries, have filed a legal complaint with the U.N. Their complaint comes in the name of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most ratified human rights treaty in U.N. history. The treaty assures the right to childhood for international children, it has been effective in reducing child mortality and malnourishment, and can generally be seen as a sweeping success and example of the benefits or international action.

The plaintiff’s petition targets five nations, Germany, France, Brazil, Argentina and Turkey, for inadequately upholding the promises made in the treaty. The children’s complaint was filed through the Third Optional Protocol, a part of the Rights of a Child treaty which allows children, or their representatives, to appeal directly to the U.N. The U.S. was not cited in this lawsuit because we did not ratify the treaty. Along with South Sudan and Somalia, the United States has not approved the Rights of a Child, a treaty passed thirty years ago. This has not stopped young American climate activists from taking legal action another way. While we can’t really join Thundberg’s attack on the U.N., another young group of climate conscious individuals have been taking their message to the courts. Juliana vs. United States is a groundbreaking case first filed in 2015 by twenty-one young adults, many under eighteen. They are suing on the grounds that the government’s actions and their endorsement of certain companies has violated the rights of the youth to live in a “climate system capable of sustaining human life.” The ambitious and unprecedented lawsuit has been delayed repeatedly by the Trump administration. They claim the suit is unprecedented and substantive. The Ninth Circuit and Supreme Court have repeatedly postponed hearing the case, even though an Oregon judge cleared it for trial in the higher courts.

The actions of these kids should not be dismissed as unrealistic or radical. According to the U.N., we as a species have already passed many of the key thresholds of stopping or diminishing climate change. The older generations tend to disregard the sheer desperation of the system because they get to check out before the truly devastating and irreversible effects become overwhelming. These aren’t the actions of hippie children, this is decidedly not the sixties, they aren’t tree huggers, or dreamers, they are brutal realists. The plaintiffs, from around the world, in both lawsuits, are painfully aware of the very real danger which threatens humanity, and have realized that politicians will never acknowledge this, so they bring the fight to them. At this point, it’s less activism than it is responsibility. We owe it to ourselves, our planet, and our future, to do better. The older generations have failed, and now the ball is in our court. We can take inspiration from the actions of other kids, our age, who are standing up for the earth and for our right to live.