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Youth Spend Day in Court Fighting for Climate Change Protection

January 26, 2012
Samantha Ruscavage-Barz (505 988-9126 x1158
In This Release

Thursday, January 26, 2012
Youth Spend Day in Court Fighting for Climate Change Protection

Government’s failure to act is endangering the well-being of future generations
Contact: Samantha Ruscavage-Barz (505 988-9126 x1158

Other Contact: Julia Olson, 415-786-4825,julia@ourchildrenstrust.org

Santa Fe, NM – Today, New Mexico youth andWildEarth Guardians will go to New Mexico First Judicial District Court todefend their right to a healthy earth and sustainable future. They hope thatJudge Sarah Singleton will rule in their favor in what experts have called oneof the most remarkable legal actions that has the potential to halthuman-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.Though Akilah is young, she has been fighting to protect the environment formany years through environmental service projects along the Rio Grande andeducating the youth of the State about the imminence of the climate changecrisis through her leadership role in Kids vs. Global Warming. WildEarth Guardians works to replace fossil fuels withclean, renewable energy in order to safeguard public health, the environment,and the Earth’s climate for future generations.

Akilah’s and WildEarth Guardians’ drive inentering the lawsuit also comes from the alarming research of our nation’s topscientists. According to leading climate scientist 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 New Mexico lawsuit is part of a larger,innovative climate litigation strategy—the international iMatter Trust Campaign. As part of thiscampaign, youth plaintiffs launched legal actions in 49 states and the Districtof Columbia, in addition to a federal lawsuit.

The young plaintiffs have based their lawsuit onthe Public Trust Doctrine, which requires sovereign governments to manage andprotect vital, natural resources for the common benefit of its citizens. Byevoking this doctrine, the plaintiffs are not asking for monetary or punitivedamages. They are instead petitioning the court to require that the State of NewMexico fulfill its obligation to protect the climate from excessive greenhousegas 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 acknowledged that “[c]limatechange 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.”

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 on whichtheir security and livelihood depends. That is the essence of the public trust, and it is broken when it comesto climate.”

In July of last year, the State of New Mexicoand Governor Martinez filed a motion to dismiss the case.

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). Toaccomplish this reduction, Dr. James Hansen and other renowned scientistsconclude that carbon dioxide emissions need to peak in 2012 and decline by 6%per year starting 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.

Despite the plaintiffs’ formidable scientificand legal claims, the state is asking that the publictrust case be dismissed. Today, state attorneys will raise jurisdictionaldefenses in an attempt to prevent the court from hearing the substance of thecase. Ultimately, it will be JudgeSingleton who will consider the arguments and decide whether to give New Mexicoyouth a chance to state their case on the merits and move one step closer to areal climate recovery plan.

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, andI can breathe fresh air. I can experience how inherently beautiful our worldis, but I am politically powerless to save it. In order for my generation tohave a future, we have to trust our government officials to protect thatfuture. It seems, though, that this trust is misplaced, so I’m raising my voicein the one branch of government where it can be heard.”

Notes to the editors

  1. Dr.Hansen’s recent paper is available at: http://ourchildrenstrust.org/sites/default/files/Hansenet al..pdf
  2. Additionalinformation about New Mexico can be found here: http://ourchildrenstrust.org/node/75
  3. 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/

WITNESS isthe global pioneer in the use of video to promote human rights. We empowerpeople to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice,promoting public engagement and policy change. In partnership with the iMatterTRUST Campaign we seek to bring visibility to the challenges our youth alreadyface because of the changing climate and call for a massive assault on fossilfuel emissions. Without an all out assault effects will range from drought to disease, from foodshortages to tainted water supplies, from the loss of homes due to floods,erosion and fire to massive relocations. The humanrights challenge is most succinctly summarized by Mary Robinson, “Climate change will, inshort, have immense human consequences.” WITNESS partnered on this campaign inhopes that predictions will not become realities. To view the storiesfrom our youth included in the TRUST Series go to www.witness.org/campaigns/all-campaigns/imatteror www.ourchildrenstrust.org.

WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofitenvironmental conservation and advocacy organization based in Santa Fe, NewMexico. Guardians works to replace fossil fuels with clean, renewable energy in order tosafeguard public health, the environment, and the Earth’s climate for futuregenerations.

Other Contact
Santa Fe, NM – Today, New Mexico youth and WildEarth Guardians will go to New Mexico First Judicial District Court to defend their right to a healthy earth and sustainable future. They hope that Judge Sarah Singleton will rule in their favor in what experts have called one of the most remarkable legal actions that has the potential to halt human-induced climate change.
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