It’s not that often you see dozens of lawyers give a standing ovation to a 12-year-old girl, but that’s exactly what happened this weekend at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Ore.
The attorneys, along with a room full of law students and activists, were gathered at the University of Oregon early Sunday morning to hear about a landmark federal climate-change lawsuit called Juliana v. the United States, filed in 2015 on behalf of 21 children from around the country. The case — better known as Youth v. Gov — asserts that the government’s actions and inaction have caused climate change, thereby putting the next generation of citizens at risk and violating their constitutional rights to enjoy life, liberty and property.
One of those youth plaintiffs, Avery McRae, appeared on the panel, where she shared her feelings on being involved in the suit for the past two and a half years.
“It is awesome and really concerning at the same time,” she said. “I get to have my voice heard and I get to be a part of this awesome lawsuit and I get to be around 20 other amazing students from across the country. That’s the awesome part. The not-so-awesome part is that we have to do this in the first place.”
— Our Children’s Trust (@youthvgov) March 4, 2018
Avery, looking alternately uncomfortable and at home in front of the audience, acknowledged the tremendous responsibility of being a part of such an important case. “I try not to let it dominate my life, because I’m a 12-year-old girl,” she said, “I just want to be a 12-year-old kid.” The pressures of keeping up with the suit, as well as her homework and her friends, haven’t stopped her, though. “I have a sense of needing to help the lawsuit. I’m a part of this, you know.”
Although the case is awaiting a trial date and therefore isn’t getting the same level of media attention as the gun-control Never Again movement inspired by the recent shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the two groups of children share something important: They’re both taking on the government and corporations in ways that could have more impact than anything accomplished by the older generations around them.
And that’s the point Avery made that brought the room to its feet: “Why is it,” she asked, “that the new normal is for kids to be doing our job, not adults to do theirs?”
For more on Juliana v. The United States, watch this recent lecture by co-lead counsel Julia Olson: