Marching For a Future That’s Brighter, Not Warmer

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*Last name omitted

Bodhi Ray*, with a look of solemn determination furrowing his four-year-old brow, strode up the Santa Cruz County courthouse steps and repeatedly shouted, “We can’t drink oil, water is life!” 

Bodhi Ray (left) leads a chant on the courthouse steps. Photo by Lluvia Moreno.

This child’s words were an expression of solidarity with the 21 youth plaintiffs involved in the Juliana v. United States Supreme court case. Bodhi was just one of several children who participated in the climate suit march and rally hosted by the Santa Cruz Climate Action Network on Oct. 29. 

For over three years, the youth plaintiffs hailing from 10 different states have been in litigation with the federal government. They allege the U.S. failed to sufficiently combat climate change despite having knowledge of the damaging and persisting effects. This failure, they argue, is a violation of their Fifth Amendment rights against  the deprivation of “life, liberty and property” without “due process of law.”

Ranging in age from 11 to 22, the plaintiffs are represented by Our Children’s Trust, an organization that seeks to advocate for youth on the topic of climate health. One of the plaintiffs, whose late father was part of the Santa Cruz community, recorded a personal message specifically for the Santa Cruz ralliers.

“For 50 years they’ve known that climate change would worsen to this degree,” said 18-year-old plaintiff Journey Zephier via recorded audio to the crowd. “We will not be silenced.”

Several ralliers remarked on the dedication of the involved youth. 

“I think it’s pretty amazing that these young people are holding the government accountable for what’s happening in the world with climate,” said Santa Cruz resident and rally participant Satya Orion. “It seems that the voice of young people is what we need because the grownups are way too complacent.”

Adults challenged this perception of complacency as people of all ages gathered in similar rallies across the country. According to 350.org, an international organization that addresses climate change, over 70 demonstrations were staged across 40 states on Oct. 29, the day the trial was supposed  to  begin.

The landmark climate lawsuit has been delayed by the courts for the second time in the last three months at the request of the Trump administration. Though the government’s initial motion to dismiss the lawsuit was denied in July by now-retired Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, this second request may have a different outcome. Newly appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh believes the executive branch should not be responsible for environmental  policy.

“It’s super frustrating that [Trump] isn’t listening to the youth of our country,” said third-year UCSC  environmental studies major Liam Ruff, who attended the march. “Being a climate denier and now denying the right for people to have a day in court […] is continuing his personal stance on climate  change.”

Frustration with the Trump administration for requesting case delays heightened existing anger at the federal government for failing to implement a climate change prevention plan sooner.

“I do not go around finger wagging at people over their individual carbon footprints because it’s really not going to make a difference,” said Cabrillo College professor Rick Nolthenius to the crowd. “To change the world, […] you’re going to have to hold our institutions responsible.”

Some ralliers instead chose to focus on the potential that the plaintiffs have to change national climate policy.

“I do think that they could actually win in court,” said attorney and Santa Cruz Climate Action network organizer Tanya Rodino. “The judge [in Eugene] is really amazing and they’ve already ruled in favor of the kids five times with respect to different pretrial motions.”

Previous rulings in favor of the plaintiffs are significant because the government effectively recognized in legal documents  climate change is real and human-caused. In the face of an administration riddled with climate skeptics, Rodino believes this victory alone is worthy of celebration.