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Kelsey Juliana v. U.S.: Meet the Young Woman Suing the Federal Government over the Climate Crisis

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Among those joining today’s Global Climate Strike will be Kelsey Juliana, lead plaintiff in Juliana v. United States, the landmark youth climate lawsuit against the U.S. government. She joins us for a roundtable discussion, along with Jerome Foster II, White House Climate Strike organizer, founder and executive director of OneMillionOfUs.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re also joined in Washington, D.C., by two more youth climate organizers. Jerome Foster II is the White House Climate Strike organizer, founder and executive director of OneMillionOfUs. Also in D.C., Kelsey Juliana. She’s the lead plaintiff in Juliana v. United States, the landmark youth climate lawsuit against the U.S. government.

Kelsey, let’s begin with you in Washington, D.C. Explain this lawsuit you have been a part of for a number of years. You’re the named plaintiff.

KELSEY JULIANA: Yeah. Thanks for having us, Amy. This lawsuit is a constitutional climate change case against the U.S. federal government, filed by 21 courageous young individuals in 2015. At the time, the youngest was 8, and the oldest, myself, was 19. This case looks at the actions of the federal government for the past several decades of helping to perpetuate the climate crisis by continuing to fund the fossil fuel economy, endangering the lives of all citizens, but especially disproportionately harming the lives of young citizens and future generations.

So we’re looking at the ways that the federal government has very knowingly and willfully funded this climate crisis. And the way that they are continuing to stall and delay our climate case shows you exactly their priorities, their priorities of their own self-interests and continuing this greedy fossil fuel economy rather than ensuring the constitutional rights of life, liberty and property to all citizens, especially young.

AMY GOODMAN: You spoke in front of the Supreme Court, Kelsey Juliana, on Wednesday. What did you say?

KELSEY JULIANA: In front of the Supreme Court, you know, the message that I felt was actually a message of mourning. I’m 23 years old, and I’ve been calling myself a climate activist since I was 10 years old. You know, over half my lifetime, I feel like I’ve been trying to make an impact, make an impact. And it’s incredible that right now we’re in this moment where 300,000 people in one nation alone have marched for climate action. And they’re followed by the world over, who are really taking to the streets and saying, “This is our time, and our rights and our lives matter.”

But on Wednesday, you know, it is a period of mourning, that we are having to do this, that we are asking children to literally beg for their lives. To have to fight for the security of a future is a huge shame on all political leaders, present and past. And it’s unfortunate that young people and that children are having to be in this position. But today it’s also very exciting that we are fueling that fire, and that leaders, the school board of New York and others are allowing young children to champion their lives.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to 17-year-old youth climate activist Jamie Margolin, the Seattle teen, co-founder of the climate justice nonprofit Zero Hour, one of the group of youths who sued the state of Washington and Governor Jay Inslee over greenhouse gas emissions.

JAMIE MARGOLIN: On college applications, I keep getting asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The media, pop culture, businesses and the whole world tells me that I and my whole generation will have something to look forward to that we just don’t. You’re promising me lies. Everyone who will walk up to me after this testimony saying that I have such a bright future ahead of me will be lying to my face.

It doesn’t matter how talented we are. It doesn’t matter how much work we put in, how many dreams we have. The reality is, my generation has been committed to a planet that is collapsing. The fact that you are staring at a panel of young people testifying before you today, pleading for a livable Earth, should not fill you with pride. It should fill you with shame. Youth climate activism should not have to exist.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s the 17-year-old climate activist Jamie Margolin, Seattle — she’s based Seattle. Interestingly, she sued the state of Washington, as well as Jay Inslee, who’s the governor who ran for president, has dropped out now, but he is the one who demanded a climate debate, that the DNC, the Democratic National Committee, refused to commit to. In fact, Tom Perez, the head of the committee, said anyone who participated in a nonsanctioned debate — and they weren’t going to sanction a climate debate — would be prevented from participating in any presidential debates. Kelsey Juliana, talk about how her lawsuit fits in with yours, and in your lawsuit against the United States, what you’re demanding.

KELSEY JULIANA: Yeah. So, you know, I’m also suing the state of Oregon, and I’ve been on that case since I was 14 years old. It’s 9 years old. And, you know, we have young people taking legal actions against their states, as well as young people here in United States, but all around the world, who are taking action against their governments, because the time for talking is over, and we are not willing to wait around for someone else’s timeline to dictate the trajectory of our lives.

And, you know, what we’re asking for is courage, courage from our political leaders and from these judges, because we’re asking for an end to the system as usual. As young people are leaving their classrooms, we’re asking for a pause, a break away from the system as usual that is harming young people and the planet. And so, from this federal lawsuit, we’re asking for a court-ordered climate recovery plan, phase-off of fossil fuels, a reinvest in carbon sequestration, and also a constitutional right to a stable climate system capable of sustaining human life.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring Jerome Foster II into this conversation. When Greta Thunberg arrived in New York, soon afterward, she went down to Washington. She didn’t lead the strike in front of the White House; she joined the strike in front of the White House. And, Jerome Foster II, you are the White House Climate Strike organizer and founder and executive director of OneMillionOfUs. Talk about this project you have. In the corporate media, we rarely see these protests. But what have you been doing there? And what high school do you attend?

JEROME FOSTER II: So, I attend Washington Leadership Academy, based out of Washington, D.C., right off of Catholic University, what is an XQ Super School, which really centers itself around the future and preparing students for their future. But really, at any school in any time in the world, we’re seeing that education is really not prioritizing our future, because we’re actively destroying our future. And that’s the work that I’ve been trying to do at the White House, is trying to call attention upon world leaders to take climate action seriously.

And the three demands that I’ve been having is to have a call for moral clarity and for people to have political courage and for them to have intergovernmental unity. And this T-shirt that I’m wearing right now is to have a call for international collaboration to stymie the climate crisis, because it is only in the cracks of division that corruption can seep in and pollution can spew out. And that’s really what I’m calling for at the White House Climate Strikes, when I first started earlier this year, where I first mobilized around 400 young people from all across the DMV to come and really show the power of young people and show world leaders what real action looks like.

And my work at OneMillionOfUs is really to mobilize young people and to have a generational unity across the U.S. to educate young people around the issues of climate change, gun violence, immigration reform, gender equality and racial inequality. And we’re working with March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter and Women’s March International and with the Fridays for Future movement to mobilize young people around educating them to vote and making sure that politicians don’t just see us as young children who don’t have an impact on our political system, but to see us as a strong, united political force, as a part of the growing movement of OneMillionOfUs, to have chapters on colleges, high school campuses, and also in community centers, to educate them around the importance of their vote and why they should vote.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you were involved with the D.C. Clean Energy Act. You helped to pass it. Explain what it is.

JEROME FOSTER II: So, the Clean Energy D.C. Act was really when I first started being a climate activist, really being involved, which was about a year ago, in February. And through that, I heard about the Clean Energy D.C. Act through Citizens’ Climate Lobby, D.C. chapter.

And this Clean Energy D.C. Act really reinvented D.C.'s energy usage and made sure that it prioritizes renewable energy, through having 100% electric buses, to making sure that we phase out all forms of carbon dioxide, and create rebates for people that buy solar panels or buy an electric car. And it's really — it’s been the most aggressive climate bill in the nation, ever since it launched in 2018.

And it was really because of the testimonies of myself and many other young people that were mobilized from the White House Climate Strikes. And directly after the White House Climate Strikes — it was the third week — we went to testify in front of D.C. Council and make sure they understood the impact that it has on so many kids that are in the D.C. area that really — don’t really understand the skills, scope or speed of the climate crisis and really don’t understand how we can make an impact. And that really showed us that we do have the power to change our political system and there is a way for young people to effect change. And that’s really where it started. And that’s really what motivated us to continue to mobilize and continue to strike every single Friday.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Jerome, you hold these protests outside the White House every Friday. You’re yards from the president of the United States. He disagrees with well over 95% of the world scientists and says climate change is a hoax. What message do you have for him? And why does it matter to you what President Trump says and thinks?

JEROME FOSTER II: My message to him, my message to President Trump, would be that there is no more time to continue to accept money from the fossil fuel industry. There’s no more time to continue to be bought off and paid for, because this is our lives that we’re fighting for. We’re fighting for our children. We’re fighting for our sisters and brothers. We’re fighting for people that are drowning.

And around the world, what we’re seeing — and, for example, in Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow, he talked about how millions of people are being displaced from their communities. And that’s really what I want President Trump to understand, is that this isn’t just happening in the United States, and the work that we do here affects everyone on this planet.

We must act as such. We must act as one united family and actually take action and not ignore the people that are dying around the world and people that are burning and drowning and going through a massive amount of suffering for us to have the luxuries that we have in the U.S. and in Europe. We must act as one people, and we must be accountable to those people that we are allowing to die on our hands just for our luxuries.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re also — Jerome, you’re also the founder and editor-in-chief of The Climate Reporter, a youth-led climate change journalism organization, which has writers from all over the world. Explain what it is and why you think media is important here.

JEROME FOSTER II: Yes. So, I started The Climate Reporter in the midway through my 10th grade year in high school. And it was really out of the fact that no one was covering climate news and no one was talking about the climate crisis. This was about eight months before Greta Thunberg started her climate strikes. And I really didn’t know any other climate activists, young climate activists, that were in the movement, so I really wanted to reach out to them and create a platform for us to be able to talk about these issues that we’re facing, that no one’s talking about.

So, I started it with my English teacher. And she helped me write articles about the importance of young people being united in this movement and being at the forefront of it. And I wrote about 167 articles in the span of a year. And after writing my 32nd article, I reached out to people that were in Australia and Antarctica and Asia and Africa frontline communities to make sure that they are at the forefront of this movement.

And The Climate Reporter was really an outlet for communities around the world to be able to share what’s happening to them, and for us to not just have a person that goes into their community and tell their story, but giving them the power to tell their own story and to tell their own narrative, not of a narrative of suffering, but of a narrative of resilience and a narrative of being empowered by the fact that even though we are suffering through all of this, we are still trying to survive and that we’re still trying to innovate.

I interviewed people that were in the Inuit Circumpolar Council, who were invited to the COP24 but weren’t allowed to sit at the negotiation table, even though they have thousands of years of experience. I also went to the Lower Ninth Ward and interviewed people that were there that never had their homes rebuilt, while communities that were surrounding them, that were primarily white, had their homes rebuilt —

AMY GOODMAN: New Orleans.

JEROME FOSTER II: — and money given back to them. But that’s really what the work that The Climate Reporter is doing, is centering those voices and making sure they have a voice at the table.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jerome Foster, we’re going to break, and then we’re going to bring someone else to the table for all of you to speak to, because he’s not here because the U.S. denied him a visa, despite the fact that thousands and thousands of students applied from around world to be part of the U.N. climate summit on Saturday, before the Climate Action Summit at the U.N. on Monday. He was chosen, but he didn’t make it, because the U.S. denied him a visa. We’ll break the sound barrier with his voice. Stay with us.

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This Afghan Teen Was Set to Join First-Ever U.N. Youth Climate Summit, But U.S. Denied His Visa

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