Current work in wildlife, rivers, public lands, and climate
Youth Get Day in Continued Fight for Climate Change Protection
Thursday, June 28, 2012
Youth Get Day in Continued Fight for Climate Change Protection
Government’s failure to act is endangering the well-being of future generations
Contact: Samantha Ruscavage-Barz (505) 819-5923
Additional Contact: JuliaOlson, 415-786-4825, email@example.com
Santa Fe, NM – On June 29, New Mexico youth and WildEarthGuardians will return to New Mexico First Judicial District Court for thesecond time to defend their right to a healthy earth and sustainable future.They hope that Judge Sarah Singleton will rule in their favor and allow thecase to go forward in what experts have called one of the most remarkable legalactions that has the potential to halt human-induced climate change.
On May 4, 2011, 16-year-old Akilah Sanders-Reedand WildEarth Guardians filed a lawsuit against Governor Martinez and the Stateof New Mexico, No. D-101-CV-2011-1514,to compel the State to prevent further increases in carbon dioxide (CO2)emissions and to compel government action in reducing CO2 emissions.Akilah’s and WildEarth Guardians’ drive in entering the lawsuit comes from thealarming research of our nation’s top scientists. According to leading climatescientist Dr. James Hansen, “the science is crystal clear—we must rapidlyreduce fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions if we are to have a chance ofprotecting Earth’s natural systems for these young people.”
The lawsuit is based on the Public TrustDoctrine, which requires sovereign governments to manage and protect vitalnatural resources for the common benefit of its citizens. By evoking thisdoctrine, the plaintiffs are not asking for monetary or punitive damages. Theyare instead petitioning the court to require that the State of New Mexico fulfillits obligation to protect the climate from excessive greenhouse gas emissions,which will ultimately protect New Mexico’s resources for futuregenerations.
There is evidence that New Mexico isparticularly vulnerable to climate change and must develop and implement aninformed plan to protect the State’s public trust resources. In its Statement of Reasons foradopting Greenhouse Gas Cap and Trade Provisions issued on November 10, 2010,the New Mexico Environmental Improvement Board (EIB) acknowledged that“[c]limate change caused by anthropogenic emissions of GHGs will have a particularlysevere impact o[n] the American Southwest, including New Mexico. The warmingtrends in this region are double the annual global average.”
In spiteof the EIB’s finding that New Mexico is imminently threatened by climate changeimpacts resulting from GHG emissions, this past spring the EIB repealed all ofNew Mexico’s regulations for controlling GHG emissions, leaving New Mexico’satmosphere completely unprotected from unlimited GHG emissions and theresulting climate impacts.
According to Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, attorney forthe plaintiffs, “our State has an obligation to all of its citizens, and ouryouth in particular, to ensure the protection of natural resources that theState holds in trust for the security and livelihood of those citizens. Yet theState continues to brazenly ignore this obligation in favor of commercialexploitation of our natural resources, particularly when it comes to theatmosphere.”
In July of last year, the State of New Mexicoand Governor Martinez filed a motion to dismiss the case despite the plaintiffs’formidable scientific and legal claims. On January 25, 2012, Akilah andWildEarth Guardians went to court for the first time to defend their right tohold New Mexico and the Governor accountable for failing to protect the climatefrom New Mexico’s excessive greenhouse gas emissions. The State and Governorraised jurisdictional defenses in an attempt to prevent the court from hearingthe substance of the case. Judge Singleton gave plaintiffs leave to amend theircomplaint to more clearly articulate the remedies plaintiffs were seeking fromthe court. After plaintiffs filed their amended complaint in April, the Stateand Governor Martinez again moved to dismiss the new complaint on the basis ofthe same jurisdictional defenses. Judge Singleton will again consider thesesame arguments and decide whether to give New Mexico youth a chance to statetheir case on the merits and move one step closer to a real climate recoveryplan.
To protect Earth’s natural systems and our wayof life, the consensus among scientists is that average global surface heatingmust not exceed 1°C and CO2 concentrations must decline to less than350 parts per million this century (we are currently over 390 ppm). To accomplishthis reduction, Dr. James Hansen and other renowned scientists conclude thatcarbon dioxide emissions need to peak in 2012 and decline by 6% per yearstarting in 2013.
If this is not accomplished, the predictedhuman-induced impacts of climate change in New Mexico are severe. In a recent report by the U.S.Department of the Interior, the Bureau of Reclamation predicted a temperature increase of5-6°F for the Upper Rio GrandeBasin in the 21st century, accompanied by a decrease in precipitation. Consequences of increased temperaturesinclude decreased snow pack, decreased water availability for agriculture, andreduced habitat for riverine species. Hotter temperatures coupled withdecreased precipitation will pose challenges to human health and increase therisk of wildfires, which threaten the State’s forests, ecosystems, and ruralpopulations.
Plaintiff Akilah Sanders-Reed says, “I’m17. I can’t vote. But I can hike and backpack. I can listen to birdsong, andadmire the Rio Grande running between the cottonwoods. I can savor localproduce. I can hear the rustle of leaves and sunlight filters through them, andbreathe fresh air. I can experience how inherently beautiful our world is, butI am politically powerless to save it. In order for my generation to have afuture, we have to trust our government officials to protect that future. Itseems, though, that this trust was misplaced, so I’m raising my voice in theone branch of government where it can be heard.”
The New Mexico lawsuit is part of a larger,innovative climate litigation strategy—the international iMatter Trust Campaign. As part of thiscampaign, youth plaintiffs launched Public Trust legal actions in 49 states andthe District of Columbia, in addition to a federal lawsuit.
Notes to the editors
- Dr.Hansen’s recent paper is available at: http://ourchildrenstrust.org/sites/default/files/Hansenet al..pdf
- Additionalinformation about New Mexico can be found here: http://ourchildrenstrust.org/node/75
- Aboutthe Partners:
OurChildren’s Trust is a nonprofit focused onprotecting earth’s natural systems for current and future generations. We arehere to empower and support youth as they stand up for their lawfulinheritance: a healthy planet. We are mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts,uncles, teachers. We are adults, part of the ruling generation, and we careabout the future of our children–and their children’s children. www.ourchildrenstrust.org/
iMatterCampaign is a youth-led campaign ofthe nonprofit group, Kids vs Global Warming, that is focused on mobilizing andempowering youth to lead the way to a sustainable and just world. We are teensand moms and young activists committed to raising the voices of the youngestgeneration to issue a wake-up call to live, lead and govern as if our futurematters. www.imattercampaign.org/
WildEarth Guardians isa nonprofit environmental conservation and advocacy organization based in SantaFe, New Mexico. Guardians worksto replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy in order to safeguardpublic health, the environment, and the Earth’s climate for future generations.