Lauren R. Stevens: Climate change must be a rallying point for nation's students

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WILLIAMSTOWN — The students are doing a fine job of putting pressure on government at various levels to make schools safer and to end gun violence. There is another task that students are particularly qualified to take on.

The killing of 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Feb. 14, galvanized their friends and classmates who have, clearly and compellingly, articulated the message that the series of school shootings this country has absorbed must stop.

Students across the country, including from Berkshire County, have joined their cry, which reached a climax but not an end with the March For Our Lives in Washington last weekend. Of course it is the students who lead the way on this issue: it is their lives that are threatened.

It is also today's students — college, high school, elementary school — who will be most affected by climate change. Their lives are threatened. The world needs their commitment and leadership in combating that crisis, too. Sadly, as in the case of the school shootings, adults have failed to take appropriate action.

Twenty-one students and recent students are providing such leadership through Our Children's Trust in a case officially titled "Juliana vs. the U.S.," brought in 2015 and now before the U.S. District Court in Oregon. The complaint asserts that "through the government's affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation's constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources."

The public trust principle holds that the government owns and must protect and maintain certain resources for the public's use, such as the area between high and low tide. At issue is whether the concept contemplates that climate be considered a public resource.

Although the case began under the Obama administration, it has gained urgency under the Trump presidency. The court has defended the case against efforts by the fossil fuel industry and the government to have it dismissed. Court watchers predict a District Court decision in the fall. A favorable ruling would force the government to take action, subject to appeal, against climate change.

This case should be a rallying point for students around the country. They will live longer in the era of a changed climate than the generations before them. For that reason students, in the legal term, "have standing.".

Their social media campaign and actions across the country — and the world — could support Juliana. Now is the time. This is the place. 350.org could provide assistance. Young people are the ones to focus on the future of the world's environment.

I only hope that older generations will be invited to join in. At least, that's how it looks from the White Oaks.

A writer and environmentalist, Lauren R. Stevens is a regular Eagle contributor.


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