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Children’s climate lawsuit prompts renewed call for Savannah to adopt clean energy policy

By David Pendered

In the wake of a setback in the climate-change lawsuit filed by 21 Oregon children against the federal government, the Center for a Sustainable Coast has renewed its call on Savannah to transition to 100 percent clean energy by 2030.

Some youngsters in metro Atlanta have joined in the global movement of young persons calling for greater environmental protections. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The renewed call for the city’s elected leadership to take action is a direct response to a remark in the appellate court’s ruling – that the job of addressing the environment is one reserved not for the courts, but for the executive and legislation branches of government.

The federal lawsuit that sparked the renewed call was filed by 21 young adults, aged 21 to 23 years, with Kelsey Juliana as the lead plaintiff. The lawsuit contends the federal government’s affirmative actions are causing climate change, thereby denying the young adults their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property. In addition, the lawsuit contends the government has failed to protect the public’s trust resources, according to a statement by two supporting organizations Our Children’s Trust and Earth Guardians.

The call for clean energy is part of the center’s focus on eliminating the root causes of climate change, rather than trying to accommodate results of climate change. Coastal flooding that results from a rising sea level is one consequence of climate change, according to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Division.

The center’s basic contentions were affirmed in ruling by a panel of judges acting on behalf of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in Portland, Oregon. A summary of the ruling, as written by the judges’ staff, observes:

  • “The panel held that: the record left little basis for denying that climate change was occurring at an increasingly rapid pace;
  • “copious expert evidence established that the unprecedented rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels stemmed from fossil fuel combustion and will wreak havoc on the Earth’s climate if unchecked;
  • “the record conclusively established that the federal government has long understood the risks of fossil fuel use and increasing carbon dioxide emissions;
  • “and the record established that the government’s contribution to climate change was not simply a result of inaction.”

The March for Science brings together youngsters who want elected leaders to know they support science and evidenced-based policies. The event culminates the annual Alliance Science Festival. Credit: Kelly Jordan

However, the ruling ultimately went against the children plaintiffs. Judges decided the proper venue for addressing climate change is in the legislative or executive branches, not by the judiciary. Lawyers for the children said they plan to ask for a review by all of the court’s judges.

The Center for a Sustainable Coast, based on St. Simons Island, posted its response to the ruling on Facebook under this headline:

  • “Court decision on climate change is disappointing but we have other options – such as our collaboration in Savannah”

The collaboration is an effort to have Savannah’s mayor and city council vote to enact a policy of 100 percent clean energy by 2030. The coalition has provided to the city’s leadership a clean-energy proposal that is inspired by policies adopted in Atlanta and Athens-Clarke County.

The center’s Facebook post observes:

  • “The court found the government is violating the young plaintiff’s constitutional rights, but that the requested remedies should be addressed by the executive and legislative branches. The dissenting judge rightly defended the youth’s climate rights writing, “our nation is crumbling – at our governments’ own hand – into a wasteland.”
  • “This is discouraging news, but it’s not over. The lawyers representing the children assert that they will request that the full 9th Circuit review the decision.
  • “Also, this federal lawsuit is not the only avenue to greenhouse gas emission reductions. We can also make progress at the local level. That’s why the Center is working with a coalition in Savannah to pass a resolution committing to a transition to 100% clean energy by 2030, as has happened in over 150 communities across the nation.”

The list of supporters of the clean-energy proposal includes Environment Georgia, which has worked for similar policies for other governments. Last week, the group held up as role models in clean-energy efforts 11 college campuses in Georgia that have implemented efforts to reduce energy consumption or to generate clean energy.


David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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