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Lessons from the kids suing Trump over climate change

| Monday, May 1, 2017

You may have recently heard of the 21 kids suing Donald Trump and his administration over its lack of action on climate change. The cohort ranges in age from 9 to 20 years old — though most are teenagers — and hail from nine different states across the Pacific Northwest, the South, Alaska and Hawaii. The rest of the country might have something to learn from their actions.

The children are suing on the grounds that their right to life, liberty and property are being violated by climate change, and that the federal government has failed to check the climate processes that are threatening their future. The lawsuit was initially filed against the Obama administration in 2015, but a judge did not agree to hear it until last November after Trump was elected. After that, over 600 fossil-fuel companies joined the cause on the side of the federal government on the grounds that the suit poses a serious threat to their businesses.

So 21 children versus the federal government, plus the majority of the oil and gas industry. It sounds like a long shot. Critics argue that there is little to no chance that these kids will win; that it is most likely their parents pushing them into this (which each kid hotly denies), and that it is unfair to spin this as an anti-Trump movement as the suit originally targeted Obama.

All of that is beside the point. The point here is that a group of kids saw a problem with their world and decided to do whatever it takes to fix it — to the point of suing the federal government, a feat that most adults would balk at.

Civic engagement is a hot-button topic right now. The 2016 election cycle left people on both sides of the aisle reeling, and in the aftermath, there has been a wealth of, “What do we do now?” Since Trump’s inauguration, the Women’s March on Washington drew nearly three million demonstrators across the country and was the largest protest in American history; it was followed by the novel March for Science and, last weekend, the People’s Climate March in D.C. Some feel that these marches alone reflect a growing desire of Americans to be involved in governmental decisions. But do these types of protests cause actual change?

That’s a big question, and social scientists have gone back and forth for years on the most effective form of civil dissent. But one undisputed avenue of change is the court system, which is exactly what the kids filing this suit are capitalizing on. Further, a protest is defined as a large group of people speaking with a generalized voice. These kids are speaking out with their own individual, defined voices. Not only can this form a more poignant argument, but it requires a lot more bravery, too.

These kids have accomplished something many adults are still trying to figure out — they have taken definitive, meaningful action on a political issue. As a college student, I follow the news closely, and I attend satellite marches when I can. But at the end of the day, I still wonder if what I’m doing makes a difference. The kids in this lawsuit don’t have to wonder. It doesn’t matter if they win or if their parents are making them do this or if they are targeting Obama or Trump. What matters is that they are trying to make a tangible difference in a world they think is flawed, without allowing themselves to be intimidated by the magnitude of obstacles facing them. So the next time you wonder how to make your voice heard — there’s a nine year old in Oregon who seems to have it figured it out.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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