One of the lead attorneys and two of the 16 young plaintiffs who recently won a landmark climate lawsuit that made international headlines will discuss the case on Tuesday, October 3, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at a free program presented by Sustainable San Mateo County and cosponsored by Burlingame’s Department of Parks and Recreation at the Burlingame Community Center. Admission is free, but pre-registration is required at https://bit.ly/YouthClimateFight.
Tickets to this event sold out quickly, but you can be placed on the waiting list by clicking on the link above.
Called “The Climate Fight of Their Lives,” the program will feature attorney Philip Gregory and two young people who prevailed in the Held v. State of Montana case: Sariel Sandoval, 20, who lives on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Ronan, Montana, and Kian Tannan, 18, of Bigfork, Montana. Sariel was 17 and Kian was 14 when the case was filed.
On August 14, a trial judge ruled that the State of Montana violated their constitutional rights to a clean and healthful environment. The court invalidated as unconstitutional and enjoined Montana laws that promoted fossil fuels and turned a blind eye to climate change.
In addition to his role in the Held case, Gregory is one of the lead attorneys in another lawsuit, Juliana v. United States, in which 21 young people are suing the federal government over its role in causing the climate crisis. This program will explore groundbreaking litigation on behalf of young plaintiffs who are bringing these cases by showing significant injuries, the government’s substantial role in causing them, and how a judgment in favor of the youth will change the government’s conduct.
Cosponsors of the event are 350 Silicon Valley, Acterra, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Citizens Environmental Council, Climate Reality Bay Area’s San Mateo County Policy Action Squad, Peninsula Clean Energy and Thrive Alliance.
In the Held case, a judge in Montana declared the State of Montana violated the youths’ constitutional rights, including their rights to equal protection, dignity, liberty, health and safety, and public trust, which are all predicated on their right to a clean and healthful environment. Michael Gerrard, founder of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, praised the judge’s order, saying, “I think this is the strongest decision on climate change ever issued by any court.”
The federal case, Juliana v. United States, argues that the government’s actions causing climate change violated the youngest generation’s constitutional right to life, liberty and property, and that the government has failed to protect essential public trust resources.
“Children born today will experience extreme climate events at a rate two to seven times higher than people born in 1960,” said Gregory, referring to a study in the journal Science.
Gregory is also participating in pending lawsuits on behalf of young people in Hawaii (Navahine v. Hawai‘i State Department of Transportation), Utah (Natalie R. v. State of Utah) and Virginia (Layla H. v. Commonwealth of Virginia). Each of these cases is being litigated under the umbrella of Our Children’s Trust, a nonprofit public interest law firm that provides strategic, campaign-based legal services to youths from diverse backgrounds to secure their legal rights to a safe climate. Our Children’s Trust works to protect the Earth’s climate system for present and future generations by representing young people in global legal efforts to secure their binding and enforceable legal rights to a healthy atmosphere and safe climate, based on the best available science.
“Lawsuits like this are taking place all over the world, and they’re already paying off,” said Gregory. A report issued in July by the U.N. Environment Program and the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University estimated the caseload at 2,180 as of the end of 2022, double the number in 2017. They are using different strategies. For example, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico is charging oil companies with corruption, using an anti-racketeering law previously used to sue tobacco companies and organized crime.