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‘Climate Kids’ Find Themselves in Court

By Climate Guest Contributor on June 25, 2011 at 9:12 am

"‘Climate Kids’ Find Themselves in Court"

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William S. Becker

During one of his high-energy speeches earlier this month, Van Jones was back in fighting form.

He told his audience at Netroots Nation that figuratively speaking, a fight is brewing in America. The pushback will come from kids facing a future of climate disruption, unions being dismantled by conservative governors, college grads who can’t find jobs, veterans being dumped back into a disabled economy, people who can’t find work, and families having their homes taken away by some of the same banks that depended on the American people to bail them out.

Jones didn’t use the term “American Spring,” but he might have. He said he has no doubt we’re on the verge of a Popeye moment when Americans of all generations decide: “I’ve had all I can stand; I can’t stand no more.”

“This is guaranteed,” Jones said. “The only question is whether we fight together, or fight alone.”

Earlier this week, two groups of kids presented an opportunity to fight together. Kids vs. Global Warming and Youth for Climate Truth sent out an appeal for support in a legal case before the courts right now.

Both groups have some experience with the legal system. Kids vs Global Warming is the group that organized youth marches earlier this year in 160 cities in 45 countries and filed lawsuits against the US government to compel it to protect the atmosphere for their generation.

Youth for Climate Truth says it was taken to court for issuing a fake news release and web site that “called attention to the fact that Koch Industries has spent tens of millions of dollars through corporate front groups to deliberately confuse the public about the dangers of climate change.”

Koch Industries sued the kids for $100,000. “Koch lost the suit,” the youth group reports, “because whether the Koch Brothers like it or not, political dissent is protected by the First Amendment.”

Now the two organizations are appealing for help in another legal case. Tim DeChristopher is scheduled to be sentenced to prison next month for an act of civil disobedience when he was a college student in 2008. DeChristopher, now 29, posed as a bidder in a federal auction held by the outgoing Bush Administration to drill oil and gas on public lands in Utah. He was prosecuted and convicted of obstructing a government auction. Here’s how the kids describe it:

The sale of the land was later blocked by a federal judge. Then, most of the land itself was deemed inappropriate for sale by the Department of Interior. Despite wide official acknowledgment that the auction was illegitimate, Tim was sued by the federal government and was found guilty of two felonies.

Tim was convicted of obstructing a government auction that was found to be illegal. That, in itself, is unjust. On top of that, Judge Dee Benson refused to allow Tim to explain one of his primary motivations for disrupting the auction: climate justice. Halting a legal conversation about what will likely become the 21st century’s most pervasive justice issue is a major setback for America’s youth and posterity.

In a statement issued this week, leaders of the two groups explained what’s at the root of their protests:

We are acting out of desperation to avoid the worst of the corresponding ecological damage that will lead to famine, sea level rise, and destabilized governments. And not just out of a sense of frustration and being ignored, but also out of a sense of hope that it’s not too late to begin reducing emissions now. It’s still possible to avoid the worst effects of the global climate shift that is happening, but only if we begin to act now…

To us, the climate crisis is bigger than an environmental problem. It’s a human rights issue that impacts every person in our generation and every generation to come. We seek climate justice for those who will be disproportionately affected by the most catastrophic effects of climate change: the world’s youngest, poorest, and unborn citizens.

The youth leaders are calling on the rest of us to take part in nonviolent demonstrations against DeChristopher’s imprisonment and to sign a petition to the Obama Administration to pardon him.

As Jones said, the question is whether we fight together or let the kids fight alone.

Bill Becker is Senior Associate, Third Generation Environmentalism (E3G) & Senior Climate Policy Advisor, Natural Capitalism Solutions

Here is the Van Jones speech:

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