Kids vs Global Warming Appeals Court Dismissal of Lawsuit Over Government Inaction on Climate Change

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Posted Sept. 4, 2013

Interview with Garrett Serrels, activist with the group, Kids vs Global Warming, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

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In recent years, young people have been getting more involved in work to halt the warming of the planet. One 13-year-old, Alec Loorz, founded a group called “Kids vs Global Warming” in 2009, with his mother, Victoria. Through community engagement campaigns and leadership development programs, the group’s goal is to empower youth to speak up for their generation and ignite change in their worlds to value nature and future generations more than profits and power. Alec sued the federal government in 2011 over its failure to take action on climate change, based on the Public Trust Doctrine, under which the state serves as trustee of the commons on behalf of present and future generations.

Two other teens who got involved in the campaign as Youth Council leaders and plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Alec's twin cousins, 17-year-olds Garrett and Grant Serrels. They both participated in the recent July Walk for Our Grandchildren, a climate action where activists of all ages marched 100 miles from Camp David in Maryland to the White House, calling on President Obama to deny a permit for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would bring dirty tar sands oil south from Canada to Texas refineries. Participants in the Walk also called more generally for keeping fossil fuels in the ground and other measures to reduce the global rise in carbon dioxide. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus, who participated in the July walk, interviewed Garrett Serrels just before a rally in front of the White House at which he spoke. Here he talks about the lawsuit and other actions Kids vs Global Warming has undertaken, such as the iMatter campaign.

GARRETT SERRELS: I got involved through my cousin; he's the one who started the organization, so my family has been involved ever since the beginning. So Grant and I wanted to do something in our community in Virginia.

BETWEEN THE LINES: That's your twin brother.

GARRETT SERRELS: That's my twin brother, Grant. We moved from California to Virginia, and while we were in Virginia we wanted to get involved somehow. So we joined the iMatter Youth Council, which is a way all youth can stay connected through emails, phone calls, and Skypes. And so we can all talk with each other and update each other on what we're doing locally in our communities, either by petitions or by doing SLAP polls, which is Sea Level Awareness Projects, and they're poles you put on the coastlines of the beach to tell you, You'll be underwater at this level. So we do that, or by telling each other we've sent letters to our representatives, or to our governors, or mayors, and that's how we stay connected, through what is called the iMatter Youth Council. So Grant and I got involved by doing a march in our area.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And what was the focus of the march?

GARRETT SERRELS: The focus of the march was to raise awareness on the day the lawsuit was filed on May 8, 2011. There were marches around the globe, actually -- some in Japan, in Egypt, in Africa as well, and in all 49 states except Hawaii. So Grant and I were the ones leading the march in our local town, Harrisonburg, Va.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So this lawsuit was filed by a very young person, who was your cousin, a few years ago. Tell us about this.

GARRETT SERRELS: The lawsuit was filed in California, and then they said it was too big for the area so they moved it to D.C. Grant, my twin, and myself and my cousin and two others from California are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. And the lawsuit is asking for an 8 percent reduction in carbon emissions per year. The percent increases per year, and it was filed in 2011, so that was at 6 percent, and in 2012, 7 percent, and now we're in 2013 and it's 8. And now that the parts per million has raised up to 400 ppm in the past couple of months, parts per million, it's going to start increasing more than it will in one year. So that's one thing our lawsuit is asking -- for massive reforestation, and also for the atmosphere to be part of the Public Trust Doctrine, and that is sovereignty that the federal government uses as policies, which is land, agriculture, water, but not the atmosphere, so we can freely pollute into the atmosphere as much as we want, and our lawsuit is asking for the atmosphere to be, I guess, under watch, under control so we can not pollute as much.

BETWEEN THE LINES: That sounds like good policy prescriptions, but you're actually suing the government. Who exactly does the lawsuit focus on?

GARRETT SERRELS: The lawsuit focuses on the federal government, the EPA, I'm not really sure all the other...

BETWEEN THE LINES: Is it against the executive, which the EPA is part of? Is Congress involved?

GARRETT SERRELS: It's the Department of Agriculture, the EPA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Commerce...and other ones I can't remember.

BETWEEN THE LINES: But it's all executive.

GARRETT SERRELS: It's all executive, that's correct.

BETWEEN THE LINES: And just tell us what's happened so far since the lawsuit was filed.

GARRETT SERRELS: When the lawsuit was filed, during our hearing we figured out that the National Association of Manufacturers -- which is the broad corporations of oil, gas, coal, fossil fuel-consuming corporations, and they are the leading reason...they intervened in our lawsuit. And so they wanted to stop us and say, You can't do this. So they intervened in our lawsuit, so it was the National Association of Manufacturers vs. the iMatter youth. And so they saw us as taking away their power and taking away their jobs, and we want to do, in fact, the opposite. We said we wanted to provide a tool to help raise awareness, but we are changing that language to wanting to provide more awareness; we want to start an awakening, to show people that our future actually is at stake, and that we do matter. Our message is that our future matters. So during the hearing our lawsuit was dismissed due to a basis found that it was not constitutional. We partnered with a non-profit called Our Children's Trust, and those are attorneys and they work pro bono; they work for free for the passion and love of the youth and for fighting for our future and their future and their grandchildren's future and future generations as well. So our lawsuit was dismissed and a couple months later, our attorneys filed a motion to reconsider. We just heard recently that that was dismissed, so now we're going to the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Find more information on the Kids vs Global Warming campaign by visiting imatteryouth.org.

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