Kelsey Juliana is an 18-year-old freshman at Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. While most college freshman are doing things like hanging out with new friends and eating late-night fro-yo, Juliana is busy doing everything she can to help stop climate change. Most publicly that means taking action against the local government in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Rock on, girl!
Juliana and 14-year-old Olivia Chernaik are the plaintiffs in a case against Governor John Kitzhaber and the state of Oregon. They believe the government isn’t doing enough to protect its citizens against the irreversible and devastating consequences of climate change.
Referring to the government officials who refuse to accept the scientific proof that climate change is a real threat, Juliana told the Huffington Post, “I want to remind them that we are their employer. The government works for us. If you’re not doing your job, then I’m going to call you out on it.”
Juliana is committed to making sure the state of Oregon makes immediate changes in preparation for the impacts of global warming. This past fall, Juliana deferred her first semester of college in order to take part in The Great March for Climate Action, which was a 3,000 mile walk from Los Angeles to Washington, DC in the hopes of getting world leaders to act on climate change and to act immediately. Her end goal is to change the role of the government in the protection of the environment, as she finds that the current environmental laws just aren’t good enough to effect change.
The ongoing case against Oregon began three years ago, and is one of many similar cases throughout the country. This case, however, is the farthest along, and experts say it’s the one to watch. In it, Juliana and Chernaik ask that a plan be put into place that will help reduce the global emissions needed to “return atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide to 350 ppm by the year 2100.” 2100 is clearly many years away, but change will not happen overnight, especially if government officials aren’t willing to make the necessary changes fast enough.
Juliana and Chernaik’s arguments are backed by the public trust doctrine in environmental law — which states that the government is required to make certain that all essential natural resources are protected, and to ensure the survival and welfare of its people — all of which seem like reasonable expectations.
In response, the state of Oregon acknowledges the seriousness of the climate change threat, but still believes there is a “lack of legal basis to extend the public trust doctrine to the atmosphere,” according to the Huffington Post.
“It’s going to take one brave compassionate judge to speak on our behalf,” Juliana said. Until then, we are all very lucky to have one brave girl standing up for what she believes in — because, after all, what she believes in could potentially save the lives of future generations. And that’s a pretty big deal.
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