In 2015, 21 young plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government, Juliana vs. U.S., asserting the federal government’s culpability in climate change. The trial starts Oct. 29 here in Eugene.
The lawsuit argues that the government’s complicity in supporting energy using fossil fuels violates the section of the Fifth Amendment which states that citizens should be free from government actions that “harm life, liberty and property,” according to the lawsuit.
Our Children’s Trust (OCT), a local nonprofit, is working on the case. Julia Olson, executive director of OCT and a lead counsel in the lawsuit, says OCT and the plaintiffs are “very energized” about having a firm trial date, but there’s a lot of work that needs to be done in the meantime. “It’s going to be busy,” she says.
Olson says she and the plaintiffs are in the midst of preparing for the trial, gathering factual and expert testimony and research for discovery, or evidence, for the trial.
“So, for example, everything that the federal government has done over many decades to create our energy system and the different roles that the different agency defendants have played in creating climate change and locking us into a fossil fuel energy system — putting together that factual story is a really important part of the case,” Olson says.
One of the organizations supporting OCT is the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Started by the Oscar-winning actor, the foundation was established “with the mission of protecting the world’s last wild places.”
Will DiCaprio himself show up in Eugene for the trial?
“I don’t know. I haven’t had that conversation with them yet,” Olson laughs. “I have heard that he is definitely very supportive and excited about the work that we’re doing and he’s proud to support OCT through his foundation.”
She says the trial may offer a chance to engage with other celebrities.
“I think as we get closer to trial we’ll be having more conversations with a lot of people from politicians to certain celebrities who can use their networks to get the word out and others who want to come to Eugene and be a presence in part to help focus attention on the case,” Olson says.
Olson says the trial will last eight to 10 weeks. It will be held at the Wayne L. Morse federal courthouse and will be first-come, first-serve for community members who want to attend.
For those who can’t make it, Olson says OCT’s communications team is working on projects to publicize the trial.
“The communications team is working on developing a podcast that will start coming out before trial to sort of lead up to the story and then have a weekly episode during trial,” she says. “We’ll also have a sketch artist in the courtroom drawing pictures each day.”
She says, “OCT leads this whole campaign strategy of elevating the voice of young people to secure their rights to a climate system that sustains their life and liberties and giving them access to the third branch of government by representing them in court.”
Even those outside of Eugene can participate through solidarity, she says. “There will be rallies in all 50 states on the first day of trial at federal courthouses around the country. And then globally as well there will be rallies of people standing in solidarity with the youth. There’s just a ton of stuff happening on the organizing level.”
Kelsey Juliana is one of the plaintiffs in the trial. She’s from Eugene and is currently a student at UO.
“I’m very ready,” Juliana says. “I’m very ready to get to it.”
Juliana has had a long history of working for the environment in Eugene and elsewhere. “I have been advocating for action on the climate since I was 10 years old,” she says. When she was 15, she first worked with OCT in suing the governor of Oregon over carbon emissions. She also walked across the country with the Great March for Climate Action when she was 18.
“This was the next thing I felt compelled to do,” Juliana says.
Juliana encourages Eugeneans to come out to the trial. “We are sitting in front of federal district judges. This case might go to the Supreme Court,” she says. “This is an incredible opportunity to be a part of history making.”