Our children look to us to feed them when they are hungry. They come for a hug when they are scared, or very happy, or just for the joy of being hugged. When they have a boo-boo we kiss their tears away. And they count on us to do all that: to keep them safe, healthy and happy. We have our children's trust on a personal level; it is an enormous responsibility that we take on when we become parents, and one that we bear gladly.
It is in fact such a large responsibility that many of us make provisions in case we die while our children are still minors: we write wills that specify who will take care of our children, and who will manage whatever funds and property we may leave for them, until they come of age. That person is called a trustee, for the trust we invest in them, to act like a parent in our stead.
Looking up the legal meaning of the word Trust, I found this:
In common law legal systems, a trust is a relationship whereby property is held by one party for the benefit of another.
In the context of our home, the planet, that sounds a lot like the native American saying:
Sometimes it appears that we have forgotten that keeping the planet habitable is part of our responsibility to our chidren. This seems to have slid so far down on our list of priorities that a few children have decided to remind us of what we owe them.
In particular, a far-reaching national policy is urgently needed to start cutting carbon emissions as soon as possible to prevent catastrophic global warming - but right now the US government has no such policy in place. So, in a bold and innovative move, five young people are suing the US Environmental Protection Agency for its "Failure to rapidly reduce CO2 emissions and protect and restore the balance of the atmosphere".
These brave children are helped by an organisation called Our Children's Trust, which names the lawsuit "Atmospheric Trust Litigation". The case is based on two legal principles, which they even explain in plain English:
The first is the Public Trust Doctrine, which says that one of the most essential purposes of government is to protect crucial natural resources for the survival and welfare of citizens.
The second principle is that of Intergenerational Justice, which says each generation must leave the planet in good shape for use of future generations.
This is one of those examples when a case is so sensible, you wonder why it ever had to become a lawsuit in the first place. It is shameful, really, that our children have to resort to litigation to make the grownups do the right thing, which is to give our children a functional planet to inhabit rather than one that we have soiled and degraded.
The children's case is supported not only by the outstanding lawyers from Our Children's Trust, but also by an array of friends that include organisations like the Sierra Club, the Climate Reality Project and 350.org, as well as climate scientists like James Hansen, Stefan Rahmstorf and Kevin Trenberth. The argument is legally as well as scientifically sound.
They have proceeded to the US Court of Appeals in Washington DC, where they were scheduled to appear on Friday May 2, 2014 to present oral arguments. That session has been cancelled by the Court, which is a pity. As James Hansen says in his brief: "The give-and-take [of the oral proceedings] would have been illuminating, not only for young people in attendance, but the public at large."
One wonders if that isn't Hansen's understated way of saying, too bad we're missing an opportunity for our children to shame us publicly.
Your child can be part of this exciting effort: Our Children's Trust has a page where you can sign a Pledge of Support. Our children do not vote: this is one way for their voices to be heard. And their support is important to the children who are spearheading the effort.
I have a feeling CelloPlayer was well aware of that when filling in name and age on the Pledge, carefully picking out the letters on my keyboard. We talked of how children, even if they are not going to court themselves, can help by spreading the word among their friends, so that those friends can tell their friends.
As Hansen remarks, "Regardless of the outcome of this specific trial, if we continue to improve the presentation and press for the rights of young people, their case will be won eventually. However, it is important that “eventually” be sooner rat her than later."