TALLAHASSEE – A group of juveniles is suing the state of Florida and Gov. Rick Scott, alleging that their constitutional rights are being violated in relation to climate change and the apparent lack of action from the government to remedy the situation.
On April 16, eight Floridians between the ages of 10-19 filed a lawsuit against the state of Florida and its Republican governor, claiming that the government is neglecting its responsibility to citizens and denying them their constitutional rights.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott | Courtesy of Gov. Scott's website
The children, though too young to represent themselves in court, are counseled by Our Children's Trust, an Oregon-based organization dedicated to giving minors a voice when it comes to fighting back against climate change.
Senior Staff Attorney Andrea Rodgers, who is representing the youth, spoke extensively about the situation and why these children have a right to pursue justice for future generations.
"Our mission is to represent young people and elevate their voice, and as part of that effort we coordinate litigation on behalf of youth against their sovereign governments (that) are taking actions to cause and contribute to climate change in a way that violates the young people's constitutional rights," Rodgers told the Florida Record. "We support a number of cases, including a case against the federal government and the Trump Administration, which is headed to trial on October 29, and one of our plaintiffs in the federal case is also a plaintiff in the Florida state case, as well."
Our Children's Trust is currently supports minors' cases in a number of states, including Washington and Oregon, and though the plaintiffs are children, Rodgers said cases her organization has represented in the past have fared very well, leading to positive changes.
"In terms of the kind of public information that is finally getting out there, these cases are already making an impact. Young people are very good communicators and they are educated about the Constitution, about what democracy means, about the three branches of government," Rodgers said. "These are all concepts that are very real to them because they just learned them and they have been living out these issues in the classroom. And so when they look at issues like climate change and they see how fundamentally broken the political system is, they're frustrated and want to do something about it."
The children are active in writing letters to their local governments and they attend public meetings. The goal is to protect the planet for future generations. Being heard is one thing. Being taken seriously is another.
"In Florida, you really are at ground zero," Rodgers said. "We're not talking about something that is going to happen a long time in the future. And in Florida, these changes include potential relocation if we continue to ignore the warnings from climate experts, as well as economic damages."
Rodgers pointed to a recent $400 million adaptation effort by the city of Miami, which will not be paid off by the current generation, but by future ones.
"It's simply unfair to put this burden on young people while we continue to pursue the fossil fuels that are the cause of the problem," Rodgers said. "You can't adapt your way out of this situation at this point in time. In order to address this issue, we need to decrease our greenhouse gas emissions, and increase our carbon sequestration on our lands, and that takes purposeful policies on the part of the government to pursue that."
Peter M. Vujin, a Miami-based attorney, commented on fact children are being forced to take action in the face of climate change.
"It's heartbreaking that the children had to resort to this, because any concerned, unbiased administrator would have noticed a long time ago that Florida is severely impacted by climate change," Vujin told the Florida Record. "Miami Beach is often flooded now, even after billions of USD spent in 'improvements.' The political climate, in my opinion, especially in Florida, is that weather change does not exist – denial – and if it does, then it is not the fault of the system that depends on hydrofluorocarbons for its survival – deflection. It is really beyond heartbreaking."
Vujin expects the judicial branch to take some action, but as with all bureaucracy, one can never be sure.
"Whether the courts will actually force the state officials to implement immediate change is a matter of judicial willingness to engage in a real-life, constitutional battle as envisioned by our tripartite government Constitution – it's the duty of the judicial branch to reign in the other two branches," Vujin said. "Surely, the judges are the best-educated branch, and with great knowledge comes great responsibility that the courts should exercise."
McKinley Lewis, the governor's deputy communications director, told the Florida Record Scott has acted on climate issues - as well as the lawsuit.
"The governor signed one of the largest environmental protection budgets in Florida’s history last month – investing $4 billion into Florida’s environment," said Lewis. "The governor is focused on real solutions to protect our environment – not political theater or a lawsuit orchestrated by a group based in Eugene, Oregon."