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A ruling to celebrate: Climate protection for the children

Perhaps one day Jonesborough and other Tennessee children will receive such an affirmative state court ruling – that their own and their offspring’s right to a healthful environment and stable climate are the state’s duty to protect.
In Seattle on Nov. 19, a group of activist 10-to-15 year olds “received a groundbreaking ruling” to that effect. Judge Hollis R. Hill, the superior judge on the court hearing their case declared that “[the youths’] survival depends on the will of their elders to act now, decisively and unequivocally, to stem the tide of global warming before doing so becomes first too costly and then too late.”
As the climate was growing more severe decade by decade, young people have appealed, repeatedly at the earlier United Nations climate summits, for stronger protection of their right to life and happiness on a healthful planet.
In Seattle, represented by nonprofit groups like Our Children’s Trust and the Western Environmental Law Center, the Washington youth brought a legal case to influence how the Constitution’s intent to “secure the blessings of liberty to [both] ourselves and our posterity” should be carried out in practice.
As described by two of the attorneys, a complicated series of petition actions by these young people had preceded the judge’s Nov. 19 ruling on climate protection for Washington’s children.
Beginning with the group asking the state for a rule to control carbon emissions, followed by the denial and its appeal and the judge’s order to the state to reconsider the youth’s petition, these all ended with the aforementioned decision.
The decision, acknowledging that the state had now begun the rulemaking process, cited the public trust mandate for protection of the climate and other common-good resources.
It affirmed responsibility by the state to take into account current science findings in designing and implementing public-trust protections.
In the United States, as perhaps everywhere else, the legal restrictions on those currently living to exploit, to diminish or harm the natural resources they pass on to subsequent generations seem few and weak.
As those resources shrink, especially life-essential ones like clean water and healthful climate, one is glad to note localized or wider social efforts to seek greater protection of these rights for future children.
In the Phillippines, one example, a case has been reported of the Supreme Court upholding the standing of children to litigate to stop deforestation on behalf of future generations’ right to “a balanced and healthy ecology.”
The current U.S. case and ruling in Seattle seem similar, a victory for children and the now widespread movement for climate protection.
To limit worse harm, here as examples Doe River and Dry Creek type flooding and other “natural disasters,” one may hope that more U.S. states will act to implement explicit climate protection regulation and support related federal-government efforts.
Indeed, as Teddy Roosevelt said: “No man, here or elsewhere, is entitled to call himself a decent citizen if he does not try to do his part toward seeing that our national policies are shaped for the advantage of our children and our children’s children.”