Climate Change Litigation on Behalf of Young People, with Julia Olson

Our Children’s Trust has sued state governments on behalf of young people in all fifty states. Image Credit: Kjetil Ree/Wikimedia Commons.

Image caption: Our Children’s Trust has sued state governments on behalf of young people in all fifty states. Image credit: Kjetil Ree/Wikimedia Commons. 

Script by: Brock Williams Audio by: Emma Mott Blurb by: Elizabeth Sherstinsky

Short Version

Extended Version

Youth-Led Climate Litigation

Worldwide, litigants are turning to the courts as a forum for fighting climate change, filing lawsuits against governments in an attempt to force climate action. Plaintiffs in these lawsuits are often children and young adults, who represent those most affected by government climate inaction. A notable early example of youth-led litigation related to climate change was in the Philippines in the 1990s, where forty-three students sued the Philippine government to protect their village’s forest. Though the case was initially dismissed in lower courts on the ground that the students were children and did not have legal standing to sue, the students ultimately won their case and deforestation was halted. 

In the United States in 2015, twenty-one young people, the organization Earth Guardians, and climate scientist James Hansen (collectively, “plaintiffs”), represented by lawyers from the organization Our Children’s Trust, sued the U.S. government in a case called Juliana v. United States of America. The plaintiffs alleged that the U.S. government, in not taking sufficient action to fight climate change, knowingly violated their Fifth Amendment due process rights to life, liberty and property, and knowingly violated its commitment to protect public lands. In 2020, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the case on the ground that the legislative and executive branches have the power to address climate change, not the judicial system. Still, despite the ruling, Juliana v. United States catalyzed a climate litigation movement across the country and world, and a documentary film about the case increased its impact. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling did not end the case, which was sent back to the district court for further proceedings. In June 2023, the district court granted the plaintiffs’ motion for leave to amend their complaint. Plaintiffs are hoping to survive additional motions to dismiss so that the case can proceed to trial.   

Our Children’s Trust has sued state governments on behalf of young people in all fifty states. Although most of those cases have been dismissed, the first of these cases to go to trial was Held v. Montana in June 2023. Additionally, in September 2023, Navahine F. v. Hawaii Department of Transportation is set to go to trial. These trials are the first in the United States involving youth-led constitutional climate cases, with the plaintiffs both using language from Montana’s and Hawaii’s constitutions to make their case. 

Is Climate Change a Question for the Courts?

This is an ongoing debate. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the Juliana v. United States case in 2020, with the majority opinion concluding that climate change is an issue for Congress and the Executive Branch to handle, rather than the judicial system. But Hawaii’s First Circuit Judge Jeffrey Crabtree argued, in response to lawyers for the Hawaii Department of Transportation who made a similar argument, that Navahine F. v. Hawaii Department of Transportation should be allowed to go to trial. Judge Crabtree wrote that “the courts unequivocally have an important and long-recognized role in interpreting and defending constitutional guarantees.” A separate and difficult legal question concerns the nature and extent of the public trust doctrine and what duty might apply to the government. The courts will need to wrestle with that set of issues if the cases reach the trial stage. 

Who is Julia Olson?

Julia Olson is Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel of Our Children’s Trust, the organization representing the youth plaintiffs in the climate change litigation discussed in this article. She earned her law degree (JD) from the University of California College of Law, San Francisco (then known as UC Hastings) in 1997 and began her legal career representing grassroots conservation groups working to protect the environment, organic agriculture, and human health. Since becoming a mother, Julia has focused her advocacy on youth climate action and founded Our Children’s Trust to further this mission. 

Further Reading

Watch Youth v Gov | Netflix 

Meet the Youth Plaintiffs, Our Children’s Trust

Juliana v. United States, Harvard Law Review (2021)

It’s Kids vs. the World in a Landmark Climate Complaint, Gizmodo (2019)

Trump admin again asks Supreme Court to stop youth climate lawsuit, The Hill (2018)


Transcripts

Short Version

Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and you’re listening to Climate Break: climate solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal: using litigation to force climate action. Julia Olson, Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel for the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust explains.

Julia Olson: Juliana v. the United States is a case brought by 21 young Americans who are suing the federal government of the United States for the actions taken that cause the climate crisis. They’ve brought their case under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to protect their rights to life, liberty, property, and equal protection of the law. They’ve helped spread the word through their work on a documentary film, to the hundreds and thousands of interviews they’ve done collectively, and speaking at conferences, all across the globe. They’ve really helped catalyze more people to take action—including in the courts.

Ethan: Ultimately, the case hit a roadblock in the Ninth Circuit court of appeal, where the court found the plaintiffs did not have standing to sue. But the decision still provided helpful language for this movement.

Julia Olson: That ruling set off a tidal wave across the world and led to a lot of climate litigation abroad.  We have a case up in Montana that will go to trial in June, and it will be the first constitutional climate trial ever in the history of the United States.

Ethan: To learn more about how Our Children’s Trust is defending children’s rights in climate court cases like its current lawsuits in Montana and Hawaii, visit climatebreak.org.

Extended Version

Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and you’re listening to Climate Break: Climate Solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal: using litigation to force climate action. I spoke to Julia Olson, Executive Director and Chief Legal Counsel for the nonprofit Our Children’s Trust about the cases her organization is litigating. Here is our full-length conversation. 

Well, Julia, thanks so much for joining us on Climate Break. I’m excited to talk to you about this case.

So let me just start with the, the case. Can you describe a bit of the, the background on it for people who aren’t familiar with it?

Ms. Olson: Juliana versus the United States is a case brought by 21 young Americans who are suing the federal government of the United States for the actions they have taken that causes the climate crisis. And they’ve brought their case under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to protect their rights to life, liberty, property, and equal protection of the law.

Ethan: And so what’s the, the latest on the case now? Where, where is it in the courts?

Ms. Olson: So we had a two to one decision from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that sent us back to the District Court and told us that the plaintiffs hadn’t met one prong of what’s called a standing test. And in essence, the court said, you know, the way you framed your case, there’s nothing that we, the court can do about this to help you. Even though you’re having harms from climate change and the government’s causing those harms, our, our hands are tied. 

And so we went back to the district court to reframe the case a bit and really focus on the important declaration of constitutional rights that we’re asking the judge to issue. And so we’re waiting for a really big, important decision from Judge Aiken from the District Court of Oregon that we think and hope will allow the case to move forward to trial.

Ethan: And then what’s likely to happen? Let’s say you get past this District Court standing issue, then what do you think? Is it gonna go to trial or do you expect more appeals?

Ms. Olson: It’s possible that the Biden Administration could take the same type of extraordinary measures that the Trump Administration took to try to stop the case from ever being heard at trial. We’re hopeful that they will not do that, and that they will follow the ordinary process of litigation and try the case, you know, bring, bring their team to Oregon and let’s have this trial and get the evidence out so a judge can make a really informed decision.

Ethan: And so you filed this case, it was under the Obama Administration, correct, when you first, first brought it? And so you’ve been up against three different presidential administrations’ Justice Departments. Have you, what, what’s the–has there been any difference in terms of the Justice Department position on the case over those three, three administrations?

Ms. Olson:  We have been litigating this case for almost eight years, under three different presidents, and the Department of Justice has basically defended the case similarly across all three administrations. And they’ve, their goal has been to not let this case be heard at trial. Now, President Biden has claims to be taking a different tack on climate and really doing everything and his power to turn things around, including by, you know, not getting in the way of important climate litigation. And so we are hopeful that the Biden Administration will just put on its case and treat this differently. But so far they haven’t shown that they’re willing to shift their position in the case.

Ethan: Because the Biden Administration, well, the Justice Department–which, you know, theoretically should be acting separately from the president–they could concede or settle, right? If, I mean, they don’t have to fight it. Is that right?

Ms. Olson: That’s right and you know, in lots of cases, of cases, like cases where the Department of Justice is a prosecutor, they should act separately from the president. But in this case, the Department of Justice, they’re the attorneys for the People of the United States, and they’re defending the government, including the Office of the President and different departments, including the Department of Energy and the EPA. And so really, the DOJ should be taking its instructions from the defendants. And if the defendants say, the Office of the President says, “We want to talk settlement,” then the Department of Justice needs to do that. And we did have settlement negotiations, but they didn’t go anywhere. So, we’ll hopefully that position will change as the case moves forward.

Ethan: And what is the ask? I mean, if you’re successful in this case, what would be some of the remedies?

Ms. Olson: Right. So one of the most important starting points for a, a real meaningful remedy that’s lasting and durable is for the courts to say that young people have a constitutional right to have their lives secure and protected, and a climate system that will sustain their lives and to set that constitutional standard.

It’s a bit like when the Supreme Court in Brown versus Board of Education said segregation is unconstitutional. Right? That set the floor for conduct and here we need the courts to say the fossil fuel energy system is unconstitutional, can’t continue. And then the government can begin to right course and, and correct that constitutional violation.

Then the courts can assist that process. But the very first step is to declare the right and declare that the government is violating it.

Ethan: And what would, what would flow then? I mean, you’re, so, you’re not asking for monetary damages, you’re asking for a constitutional right, essentially. And then if that’s the case, what, what flows, what actions flow from that?

Ms. Olson: Well, then the conduct of the government gets measured against that constitutional right. So, whenever the government is faced with a decision about whether to continue promoting fossil fuels, like let’s just take for example, the Willow Pipeline in Alaska that’s been in the news that the Biden Administration just greenlighted. Well, is that constitutional? To be approving new fossil fuel infrastructure at a time and we have to put fossil fuels to bed, you know? No, it’s not. Like we need to phase out fossil fuel use, not increase the production of.

Ethan: And what was the thinking behind. Suing the fed, the government, the federal government as opposed to the fossil fuel companies themselves that, you know, in, in many, if not most cases, knew about the harms they were creating when they were selling their products.

Ms. Olson: Yeah. I mean the, the first people who knew about the harms of fossil fuel pollution and like carbon dioxide, were the government experts. So government scientists have known about this longer than even the fossil fuel industry scientists. So both government and industry knew for a long time, well over 50 years. And the reason we sue government is, only the government can infringe your fundamental rights to life, liberty, and property under the Constitution.

Private companies can’t be held liable under the Fifth Amendment for violating your rights. It’s government’s job not to do that. And our entire fossil fuel energy system is a product of the government allowing companies to extract, develop, produce, and combust fossil fuels. So none of our energy system would exist in its current form without government. And that’s why the government is liable. 

Companies are liable in a different way, right? They’ve profited off of causing public nuisance and creating harm for people ann the public. And they shouldn’t have to pro-, they shouldn’t be able to profit from that. But, government owes the duty to the people.

Ethan: Understood. Yeah. So, okay. And then, so going back to just the idea of, of the remedies here. And so you gave an example–the Willow Project wouldn’t go forward if there was a constitutional right at issue. So in a sense, if the court were to declare there’s a constitutional right here, does that mean that we’re essentially invalidating a whole host of federal laws that, that lead to the approval of fossil fuel infrastructure?

Ms. Olson: Well, what would happen is the government would have to go and figure out, how do we meet these emission reduction targets? How do we get off of fossil fuels completely by 2050 and about 80% there in the 2030s? How do we do that? And if they decide, we need to go forward with one project, but we’re gonna cancel three others in order to do that. Okay. Government can make those kinds of poly policy decisions about what needs to go and under what timeline. But right now there’s really no substantive plan for how we make this transition. 

And so. It’s really, it is up to government to figure that out. It’s not up to the court to figure out those policy details, but it’s up to the court to hold the government to account, and are you meeting these deadlines? Are you meeting these targets? And if you’re not, then the courts can step in more to oversee the more specific process.

Ethan: So would that essentially require Congress to act in response to the court decision? Or is this an executive branch function? Who, who in government takes this next steps?

Ms. Olson: Yeah, no, I mean, a remedy really doesn’t require action by Congress. Congress could step in to legislate perhaps a more graceful transition process, but I think that’s probably unlikely that they’ll come to agreement on how they would like it done. But Congress has given a tremendous amount of authority to executive agencies. To manage the fossil fuel energy system, Congress has given authority to EPA to manage pollution, so there’s abundant authority to accomplish the, the transition away from fossil fuels by the federal government without new legislation.

Ethan: And is there any precedent that you’re following? Any example in, in the history of the US that you know, you’re sort of modeling your approach on or maybe in other countries?

Ms. Olson: Well, we, here in the US we look to other types of constitutional litigation that was about the need for systemic change. Desegregation is a huge example, not just in schools, but in housing systems, for example. We also look to prison reform litigation where, you know, entire prison systems have been declared unconstitutional, like in California. And courts stepped in to give the state of California, for example, very specific deadlines and numeric targets to meet, to bring that system into compliance with the constitutional standard. So, you know, we look at foster care systems, we look at a lot of different systems that–when they are mismanaged in a way that causes harm to people and violates rights–governments have to turn their systems around [be]cause the government’s managing the system. Right? 

And the same is true, I mean, the energy system–much larger system, but it’s a system and it can be changed. And unless courts tell the government, “You have to do this within a certain timeline to protect life and liberty,” the government’s not doing it on its own.

Ethan: And how do, how are states factoring in here? I mean, in some situations, you know, states have more sovereignty over carbon emissions than the federal government might have. I mean, in many cases, states are regulating their electricity grids, their local governments are regulating local land use and building codes. States also do building codes. So how, how does state governments factor into a, a federal government remedy?

Ms. Olson: Yep. So both governments have a role to play in our, our dual system, our federalist system. The federal government has, actually has sovereignty over the air. So that’s been long declared by Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court: that when it comes to our shed, our national air shed, the U.S. is sovereign. States, however, have a lot of control over fossil fuel production and use within their states.

And you know, we have a case up in Montana that will go to trial in June, and it will be the first constitutional climate trial ever in the history of the United States. And in that case, the, the claims are really about the state’s energy policy. They have a policy in Montana that they’re required to promote and develop to the maximum extent, the fossil fuels in Montana.

And so we’re challenging that conduct. And, you know, that’s a place where states have a lot of control, how they’re operating their sources of energy in, in the state, but also their production of fossil fuels that get shipped out of state. So there’s a lot of dual authority, and I think it’s gonna take every government, every sovereign doing its part to transition their systems off of fossil.

But the federal government plays a huge role, right? The, the states can’t do it alone. They can do certain components of this transition, but it’s gonna take regional and national efforts to make it.

Ethan: And you mentioned in the beginning that your plaintiffs are children, minors, youths. What’s the significance of children as plaintiffs here?

Ms. Olson: Well look, young people are the most harmed by what’s happening with climate crisis. And in part because of their age, they’re not just small adults. They are physiologically and mentally different than full grown adults. And so they experience the physical and even the mental health harms of climate change differently, and those harms will stay with them their whole lives. So, you know, the more climate fire smoke they inhale, the more pollutants they’re exposed to, that affects their bodies and their brains. 

But they also have a lot of longevity on the planet. You know, their lives are ahead of them, and most lawmakers in this country, average age is 60 years old. Right? Children are gonna live at least another 60 years, you know, and or even more close to the end of the century with life expectancy. And so they are really going to bear the brunt of the worst of climate crisis.

Ethan: And so it sounds like we’re really talking about intergenerational harm and, and children are gonna have essentially the most damages because they have more of their life living in a climate constrained world. How does the US legal system treat this kind of intergenerational harm? What kind of precedence are you, are you relying on?

Ms. Olson: Yeah, so when it comes to kids, I mean, one other thing I should say is, it’s the adults making all the decisions, right? These young people can’t vote most until they become 18 years old. And so not only are they young and vulnerable, they rely on their caregivers and their government to protect ’em, but they have no political power. That’s really meaningful in our society. 

And the way our system of law and our constitutions have historically tried to account for that and protect young people is, is through doctrines of intergenerational justice. There are a couple places where you can find this. So we work with the Public Trust Doctrine, which is a doctrine of intergenerational justice that says governments have to protect the common resources like air and water and shorelines and oceans, that all people hold in common. And they hold this in common across generations. And so a lot of our cases have public trust claims, including the Juliana case and the Held versus Montana case. 

And that doctrine of intergenerational justice is often articulated in constitutions. So for example, our Virginia case–which is up on appeal, and we just filed an appellate brief today in that case– they have a, a provision in their constitution and it’s Article One, section one, and I’ll, I’ll just read it really quickly. That says all, “All men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity, namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.” 

And that type of clause is often called the Posterity Clause, and it’s in the preamble of the US Constitution. And posterity is, simply stated, future generations. And so when the founders of our nation founded first, like the Commonwealth of Virginia with a Declaration of Rights and its Constitution and the US Constitution among many others that followed, the founders intended to create a nation and a compact with the people that would survive across generations and that, you know, our children’s, children’s, children’s children would have access to the, the natural wealth and the health and beauty and the safety and opportunity that people have always had. 

And you know, this generation of young people and the generations to come, they’re losing that opportunity and they’re losing that health and that safety that comes from the bounty of the resources in our nation.

Ethan: So if you end up going to trial, what do you expect would happen? What would, what would the evidence look like? Who do you put on the witness stand? What does that look like?

Ms. Olson: So it’s easiest to talk about the Montana case because we are going to trial in just under three months. And we have in that case, it will be a two week trial and we will put on, you know, let’s say about 28 witnesses–half of which, or slightly more than half of which, will be expert witnesses: experts on climate science, on the harm from climate change in Montana, indigenous experts, physicians, pediatricians, mental health experts, and also the energy transition experts and experts on fossil fuel policy in Montana. So all of those experts will testify and it will be interspersed with testimony from the plaintiffs about the ways in which they’re being harmed in Montana, including harm to indigenous traditions and mental health harms and harm to young people’s ranches that their families rely on for their livelihoods and their income. So you’ll hear a whole host of, of harms, including a lot of wildfire harms that the youth have experienced in Montana. 

And after we put on our case the first week, the government will put on their witnesses. They’ll have some government witnesses. They only have three experts they’re bringing forward, including a climate skeptic scientist. So they will try to convince the judge that climate change is not really a big deal, you shouldn’t be worried about that. And you’ll hear us cross-examine those experts.

So it’s really an opportunity to put forward the, on our side of the table, the best evidence that’s out there about what’s happening with climate change and what can be done about it and how it’s affecting young people. And on the other side, we’ll hear what the climate-denying state of Montana thinks is going on, and the judge will hear all of that testimony and decide what’s credible and make findings of the facts of the case and apply the constitution to those facts and issue a ruling that will be historic.

Ethan: So it’s less about looking for a smoking gun document that in the 1950s, you know, a lawyer for the Interior Department or, you know, was briefed on climate harms. It’s more about just looking at the factual situation, scientifically speaking about climate harms.

Ms. Olson: Yeah, no. Both the Montana case and Juliana will have a look at historic records, so we do have those smoking guns about how long governments have known and their complicity in allowing this crisis to get to the point it’s at today. So we do have a lot of that evidence, as well, and that will be presented through both documents and witnesses.

Ethan: So if you’re successful at trial, I’m assuming it’ll get appealed to the Ninth Circuit and then, presumably to the US Supreme Court. Not to get too far ahead, but doesn’t it seem like, you know, for the courts to rule on something this transformative, economically speaking, you know, environmentally speaking, otherwise it’s gotta go to the Supreme Court. This Court, present Court doesn’t seem likely to uphold any, any favorable verdict. I mean, does that, does that sort of path sound right to you? And, and if that’s the case, I mean, what, what happens next?

Ms. Olson: In terms of Juliana, if we win at trial and the Biden Administration is still in office–or another administration that is concerned about what’s happening with climate crisis–they don’t have to appeal the decision of the District Court. They can choose to comply with it. So, that’s first off. 

If they do appeal it to the Ninth Circuit and we end up after that going up to the U.S. Supreme Court, I wouldn’t prejudge: One, the composition of that Court at the time we get there. Two, you know what the court would do with the case because we have always framed the Juliana case as a conservative case. It’s a case that has a very thorough originalist analysis, as well as a living constitution analysis.It is about the right to life of children, which appears to be something that the conservative side of the bench cares about deeply. And, and it really is about the foundational values of, that this country was founded upon. 

And on the other side of the table, you know, the harm of our, the economic harms–Yeah. There are economic harms to one industry in particular, and that it’s time for that industry to, to move on and change and evolve. You know, we’re, we’re still powering the country about close to 80% of our power is from this old form of fuel. You know, it’s like if we were still using those computers that were the size of three city blocks instead of using our smartphones. You know, we’re not stuck in old technology in all these other ways, but we are stuck in old energy technology and we need to move to new energy technology. 

And I think, you know, that kind of economic harm is not protected under the constitution. But children’s lives are protected under the Constitution. And I think the Supreme Court, even this Court, can understand that.

Ethan: And why do you think courts are the right forum to, to bring a case like this? I mean, there are other avenues for, for the kind of change that you seek.

Ms. Olson: Well there’s not actually any other body that can hear this kind of case. You know, we have three branches of government and only the courts are empowered to interpret the Constitution and declare the rights and, and declare if those rights have been violated. So that job lies exclusively with the courts, and that’s why we’re in the courts.

And yeah, some people will say, well why don’t you go lobby congress, or go vote, or march in the streets. And, you know, young people throughout the climate movement, over the course of decades, at least the last three decades have been doing all of those things and it has not gotten them very far. And and these young people, again, they can’t vote. They don’t have money to pay lobbyists. And they have been in Congress. They’ve testified at, you know, before proceedings. They’ve spoken at the United Nations like Greta Thunberg and Xiuhtezcatl Martinez. They’ve done all of these momentous things and the adults sort of pat them on the back and say, good job, keep coming. And fundamentally, they’re not getting the transformative change that they need and that they deserve under the Constitution.

Ethan: We did touch on earlier about cases against the fossil fuel companies for the economic damages. How do you sort of see these two litigation paths working together, if at all? How, how do they, how do they relate if people are, you know, kind of confused about different versions of climate litigation?

Ms. Olson: I think they’re complementary. They’re very different in terms of what they seek at the end of the day, in terms of the remedy in the case. But the long-term goal is similar. The long-term goal is to move fossil fuels to the, the history books and, and have governments really, you know, act in the way they should.

And I, so you know, the core difference is the damages cases are seeking–primarily monetary relief from the fossil fuel companies. And a lot of those cases are about adaptation. So, helping cities and states adjust to and pay for things like sea walls to protect the right, them from rising seas and other measures to protect communities. And I think one goal of those cases is to, again like, divest the fossil fuel company of its profits and make them pay for the harm they’ve caused. That doesn’t necessarily equate to the kind of swift transition off of fossil fuels that we need right now. So while we’re holding those companies accountable through these damages cases, we also need governments to be mandating the transition more quickly than I think the damages cases are going to lead to. So it’s, you know, they’re, they’re both important and I think we need to be all hands on deck using all the tools that we have in terms of our civic responsibility and our litigation tools. Working in all three branches of government.

Ethan: You mentioned you’ve been at this for eight years now on this case. Have there been any positive impacts, even though you don’t have a trial and a verdict and you know, final appeal and all of that, have there been any benefits of just bringing this case that you’ve discovered, over these eight years?

Ms. Olson: Oh, absolutely there are so many benefits. You know, just starting with in 2016, Judge Ann Akins’s really historic ruling that people have a climate, a right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life. That ruling set off a, a just a tidal wave across the world and led to a lot of climate litigation abroad. And then in other countries there are a lot of judges and litigants using that language that this is a climate right, it’s a life sustaining climate right, and relying on her initial precedent for that. Even the dissenting opinion by Judge Staton in the Ninth Circuit ruling in Juliana was incredible. I mean, the majority opinion was incredible too in terms of naming that the United States government was contributing to catastrophic climate change and that young people were being harmed, really naming what was happening.

So there’s been a lot of good that’s come from the, the judge’s opinions in the Juliana case. And in addition to that, it really catalyzed, I think, the youth movement across the world. You know, Fridays for Future and the work that Greta Thunberg started and others. You know, they point to the plaintiffs in the Juliana case as being hugely inspirational to them.

And so I think the 21 youth plaintiffs have become really role models for a lot of young people involved in the climate movement. And they’ve helped spread the word through their work on a documentary film, to the hundreds and thousands of interviews they’ve done collectively, and speaking at conferences all, all across the globe. They’ve really helped catalyze more people to take action, including in the courts. 

And, and I guess the other thing I’ll say, another important thing that’s happening with the Juliana case is it is being taught in law schools and colleges and high schools and middle schools, and probably elementary schools all across the country. I mean, it’s, it’s taught in hundreds of law school courses at hundreds of law schools. And because of that, it’s really helping to transform how law students think about law and how they think about constitutional law. And so how we really shift and grow our rights as a people involves the legal academy, and it involves people in college and in high school, just transformative thinking about what it means to be a human in this day and age, and have your basic rights to life, life and liberty, and how we protect.

Ethan: Are there any risks downsides of bringing a case like this? If there’s an adverse judgment, what, what might be the downside, if any?

Ms. Olson: Well, the downside of losing is that it just takes longer to get to the win. It’s nice to win first, but sometimes you have to lose first before you win. And the, the real downside with climate crisis is, you know, any other social justice issue that we might fight for if we lose in the beginning, there are a lot of people who could suffer from that loss. But ultimately the loss doesn’t prevent you from later winning and protecting those rights.

And the problem with climate crisis is if we don’t lose quickly enough, we will forever lose the ability to protect those rights, right? It won’t just be some people who lose. It will be generations to come, for as far out in the future as we can imagine. And that is really the risk. And so I am not worried about losing a standing argument and how that standing analysis is going to affect, you know, some pool of cases. It’s: we have to win and we have to win quickly. And so those hurdles, the setbacks, just delay the ultimate result that we need to get to very quickly.

Ethan: And for listeners who wanna get involved, wanna support in some way or learn more, what do you recommend?

Ms. Olson: So, please, if you’re interested in learning more, go to ourchildrenstrust.org and sign up to receive our newsletter and if you have the means, please donate. We rely on individual supporters to do this work, all pro bono for the youth. You know, we don’t charge them a thing, so we need everybody contributing to make this all possible.

And there’s a lot of other action steps you can take. So check out our website and get involved.

Ethan: We’ll make sure we have a link available along with the clip here. And last question, ha, have, have I not asked something that I, that I should have? Is there something else you wanna mention that we haven’t covered yet? 

Ms. Olson: I’ll just say that the, I’ll just say this again in case I didn’t say it well the first time. So our, our Held versus Montana case is going to trial June 12th through the 23rd, in Helena, Montana. And hopefully it will be live streamed in some capacity. But, if you’re in the area, you know, come to the courthouse in Helena, track what’s happening on our social media platforms. It will be covered by all the major news outlets around the country, and many global outlets as well. And all eyes will be on Montana. It’s a historic first-ever constitutional climate trial in the United States and it’s worth watching, and we hope to see you there.

Ethan: Right, well, we’ll also include information about that as well. But Julia, thanks so much for coming on Climate Break. Best of luck with the various litigation that you have going on and appreciate all of your hard work.

Ms. Olson: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

Ethan: That was my full conversation with Julia Olson. To learn more about the case and for more information on climate solutions, visit ClimateBreak.org.

Climate Change Litigation on Behalf of Young People, with Julia Olson