By Pamela McVety, climate activist
On Monday, eight Florida children and their attorneys will argue in a Tallahassee courtroom that their lawsuit against the state for failing to provide a stable climate should be allowed to continue.
Ranging in age from 12 to 22, the young people are part of an Our Children’s Trust climate change lawsuit against the Governor, the Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Public Service Commission, and the Florida Board of Trustees of Internal Improvement Trust Fund.
Since we are in the midst of a pandemic, they will argue their case virtually.
These children speak passionately about how climate change has already affected their young lives. They have faced down monster hurricanes, waded through streets flooded with salt water even on sunny days, and seen their favorite coastal spots buried under tons of sand.
They are worried. One has seen his baby goats die. Another fears that her tribe will lose its home and tribal identity as the sea rises and floods her land. One has had to abandon her home in South Florida because her mother refused to face another hurricane as frightening as Irma. They all wish that they didn’t have to be part of a lawsuit.
No doubt, climate change will pose additional risks to these children and yours throughout their lives. A 2019 article in the New England Journal of Medicine said that climate change is the greatest public health emergency of our time and is particularly harmful to fetuses, infants, children and adolescents.
The lawsuit — Reynolds v Florida — asks our government to secure the legal right of these children to a safe climate and a healthy atmosphere. It is based on the premise that our children have a fundamental right to life and that all life depends on a stable climate that is capable of sustaining life.
They contend that the state is acting, but doing the wrong things. They say the state is creating and perpetuating an energy system based on fossil fuels.
It seems, though, that our Governor and the agencies who are responsible for our energy systems in Florida don’t agree. They argue that issues raised in the suit should be resolved through legislation, not judicial ruling.
But climate change is not a political issue. It is a scientific fact. It is a health issue, a safety issue, a food issue, an issue of national security, and an economic issue. Moreover, the children are right: climate change should be understood as an issue of legal rights. They have the constitutional rights to life and liberty which should include a stable climate.
You can bet that some of our previous governors and would have taken a look at the lawsuit and said, “These children are right. We should be protecting them.”
Consistent with this thinking, former Gov. Charlie Crist prepared a Climate Action Plan for the state, which is exactly what these children are asking for in their lawsuit. The children are asking the court to declare what the state is doing is unconstitutional and ask for an inventory of Florida greenhouse gas emissions and a statewide plan to cut our carbon emissions.
The children and their attorneys are front line defenders for a safe climate for everybody. You can help them by supporting Our Children’s Trust for Florida.
Pamela McVety is a climate activist based in Tallahassee.
“The Invading Sea” is the opinion arm of the Florida Climate Reporting Network, a collaborative of news organizations across the state focusing on the threats posed by the warming climate.