Never before in human history have so many people been victimized by so few. The out-of-control burning of fossil fuels, driven by wanton capitalism, has enriched the upper crust while emperiling not just all of humanity, but life on Earth as we know it. Climate change is coming for us all, but the good news is we know exactly who to blame: not just fossil fuel companies, but the governments that enabled them.
It’s kids who are leading the way, specifically the young plaintiffs in the landmark lawsuit Juliana v. the United States, three of whom joined the WIRED25 festival in San Francisco today. “Defendants have known of the unusually dangerous risks of harm to human life, liberty, and property that would be caused by continued fossil fuel burning,” their suit reads. Federal institutions like the Department of Energy, they argue, facilitate the import and export of fuels and thus doom its citizens, instead of protecting them. All the while, the feds have known full well the mechanisms and consequences of global warming.
It’s hard to overstate the terror of climate change, a multifaceted monster that threatens crops and coastlines and public health. “I think especially for young people, we are actually discouraged often not to dive into that, because it’s overwhelming and scary,” said Kelsey Juliana, the lead plaintiff, in a conversation with WIRED senior editor Sandra Upson. “And we have soccer practice to get to on time. But it’s being able to be honest and dive into the realness, sit with it, and then plug in whatever way you can, that’s got us all here today.”
The lawsuit first emerged in 2015, and all the while the plaintiffs have been winning small victories, fending off the government’s attempts to have their lawsuit tossed. “I really did not expect for this lawsuit to be taking this long,” said Levi Draheim, of Satellite Beach, Florida, a coastal town that could soon vanish under a rising sea. “And it’s been a third of my life. And this lawsuit has just been taking way too long, we should not be having to wait for them to decide if we are going to have a future, or if we are not.”
Over those long four years, the young climate movement has exploded, in no small part because of the lawsuit, as well as the rousing leadership of Greta Thunberg. And the young activists of Juliana v. the United States have grown ever more empowered, both within the courtroom and without. “I think that’s really important because something we harp on a lot is that it’s not just about us 21 plaintiffs, or even just about these last four years,” said Vic Barrett, of White Plains, New York. “What we’re doing is indicative of a wider movement and a wider change that’s happening with just young people stepping up to governments and stepping up to people in power.”
So what does victory look like? Well, on paper it would be a court-ordered strategy for the United States. “And we would put us on a path towards climate recovery,” said Juliana. There’s also the unquantifiable: not only are the kids alright—they’re helping humanity save it from itself.