Aakshi Chaba

Approximately 30 New Haven community members, some holding signs reading “Stable climate is a constitutional right” and “Demand climate justice,” joined together to show support for the plaintiffs of a federal case fighting for improved climate policies.

In 2015, 21 plaintiffs, all of whom are 22 years old or younger, filed a court case — Juliana v. United States — against the U.S. government claiming that the government’s climate change policies were violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and freedom. On Monday afternoon, Our Children’s Trust, the legal nonprofit representing the plaintiffs, partnered with local organizations to organize rallies in front of the federal courthouse of each of the 50 states to show support for the case.

“I’ve been really motivated by this case because it really gets to the heart of what I believe is the fundamental issue with climate change, and that is that the primary impact is going to be felt by the people least responsible for the problem,” Paul Rink LAW ’19, an organizer of the rally, told the News.

While many cases are filed against the U.S. government on the grounds of climate change, Juliana v. U.S. gained momentum in 2016 when U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken said that she had “no doubt that the right to a climate system capable of sustaining human life is fundamental to a free and ordered society.”

Since then, the government has attempted to block the case from advancing multiple times, filing several motions to stay, which ask the court to temporarily suspend proceedings, and motions to dismiss.

Monday’s rally was supposed to coincide with the day that the plaintiffs presented their case in the U.S. District Court in Oregon, but as a result of a temporary stay ordered by the Supreme Court last week, the case was delayed once again.

Still, Rink, who was the first speaker at the rally, said that the stay was “disappointing but not debilitating,” noting that the case’s plaintiffs have previously overcome several legal hurdles.

Rink’s speech was followed by a short speech from Adara Huq, a 16-year-old student at local public high school Metropolitan Business Academy.

Huq emphasized the need for the community to unite around the issue of climate change and demand change, asserting that “our freedom depends on it.”

Nick Famularo ’22 also spoke at the event, urging attendees to show their support for climate change policies by voting in the upcoming midterm elections, which he described as the “one of the most important elections in our lifetime.”

“When [the plaintiffs] head to the court, we head to the polls,” Famularo said. “When has anything in this country been accomplished by doing nothing?”

Local community organizer Chris Schweitzer said that attendees should get involved in local climate movements and start conversations about climate change within the New Haven community.

Rink ended the rally by quoting Kelsey Juliana, a 22-year-old from Eugene, Oregon, who is the lead plaintiff of the case. According to the Our Children’s Trust website, Juliana, who studies environmental studies at the University of Oregon, has been an environmental activist since age 10 and is the oldest plaintiff – and as a result – name plaintiff in the case. Our Children’s Trust has also been supporting other youth plaintiffs in trying to implement legal climate policy improvement at the state level since 2011.

“I believe that climate change is the most pressing issue that my generation will ever face — and indeed the whole world will face,” Rink said, quoting Juliana. “It is an environmental issue and a human rights issue.”

A mixture of Yale students, Connecticut residents and visitors from other countries were in attendance at the rally. Trevor Dolan FES ’20 said he attended because to him, climate change presents “almost an existential threat.”

Nolan Scharper, a Toronto native who also attended the rally, works at St. James Town Community Co-op, a Canadian organization that focuses on food security and climate stability. He said he came to the event because of the legal precedent the case could set.

“I think climate resiliency is a human rights issue,” Scharper said. “We’ve been following this case because we think it could set a precedent for legal actions that we could take.”

Diane Hoffman, a resident of Hamden, told the News she attended the rally because she wants a planet that is livable for her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She added that she prays that this “case gets heard.”

Our Children’s Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization registered in the U.S.

Aakshi Chaba | aakshi.chaba@yale.edu