Williamstown Rally Joins Others in Support of Youth Climate Change Lawsuit
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — In 2015, 21 young Americans filed a lawsuit against the federal governmment that alleges the United States has "violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property" by causing climate change.
After years of dueling motions, an original start date of Feb. 5, 2018, and a July 30, 2018, unanimous U.S. Supreme Court decision that denied the Trump administration's application for a stay, Juliana v. United States was scheduled to start Monday, Oct. 29, in Eugene, Ore. - a trial that is being dubbed "the trial of the century." That start date, however, is far from certain, as the U.S. Supreme Court ordered a temporary, administrative stay while it considers the federal government's Oct. 18 petition for a stay. Attorneys for the youths filed their response on Oct. 22, requesting that trial proceed on Oct. 29. A decision was expected Friday, Oct. 26.
In Williamstown, long a Berkshire County leader in bringing attention to climate change issues, a rally has been scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 26, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the First Congregational Church on Main Street for people to come show their support for the plaintiffs.
Bridget Spann, the church's community outreach organizer, said Williamstown Select Board member Anne O'Connor will begin the remarks at 1:30 in front of the church and will be followed by several Williams College students, some with connections to the plaintiffs in the case and another who is passionate about the issue after completing a summer intern with the ACLU.
Spann said she and other organizers - from the Williamstown COOL Committee and other local social justice groups like Greylock Together - thought it was important to show their support for the youths, even if the trial doesn't end up happening on Oct. 29 - or at all.
"We need to go forward with the demonstration regardless of what happens with the trial," she said. "I think it's important for people to know this happening."
Spann said it was "incredibly meaningful and incredibly powerful" that youths are leading the way on this, but she said that doesn't abdicate adults' responsibility in making constructive changes now.
When we find lead in paint, she said, we fix it. When we find chemicals in water, she said, we fix it. The same thing needs to happen with climate change, she said.
"We have the information. We need to be taking action on a local level, a national level and a global level," she said. "Our government could be doing a lot more than it is."
The Williamstown rally is just one of many planned around the country over the next few days; elsewhere in Massachusetts, a rally in Boston will coincide with the scheduled opening of the trial on Oct. 29. A rally in Eugene is scheduled for 8 a.m. to noon Monday outside the federal courthouse where the trial would be taking place. A complete list as well as the background of the trial can be found online.
According to the website, the crux of the lawsuit is this: "The government has known about the dangers of climate change for more than 50 years. Despite that knowledge, the United States has continued to pursue reckless and dangerous fossil fuel development, harming the health of our communities and threatening our futures."
"Our freedom depends on a climate system that will sustain human life," the website reads. "Let's show the government that it has a duty to listen to our country's youngest citizens, and to prepare and implement a Climate Recovery Plan to protect our basic and most fundamental rights."
The federal government - under both Barack Obama and Donald Trump - has sought to have the case dismissed on many grounds, most recently the cost of litigation.
Undeterred, the 21 young plaintiffs have been working for three years with a team of world-class experts to bring their claims to trial. In the last 60 days, the parties have taken almost 50 depositions, have finalized their exhibit and witness lists, and filed their pre-trial briefs. Plaintiffs’ counsel say their 20 experts, all working pro bono, have already booked their travel to be in Eugene, Ore., for the Oct. 29 date. Plaintiffs' experts include Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz and renowned climate scientists including Dr. Kevin Trenberth, Dr. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Dr. Eric Rignot.
While the trial itself hangs in the balance, the youths and their supporters are not backing down.
"The lengths my own government is going to to get this case thrown out and avoid trial is absurd and offensive," said Vic Barrett, a 19-year-old plaintiff from White Plains, said in a news release from the Children's Trust, which is backing the youths. "This case is not about money. This is not about the 'harms to the government' or how much money the government has paid its experts or how many hours their lawyers have to work. This is about my future and the future of our youngest generations. This is about fundamental constitutional rights of children.
"We are simply asking for our right to be heard. Our government exists to hear us and protect us. If we cannot go to our federal courts with real constitutional claims for relief and present our evidence at trial then the people of this country have been failed by our third branch of government. The final judgment will be reviewed by appellate courts, but this case needs to go to trial on October 29."
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