VICTORY! Washington State Youth Win Unprecedented Decision in their Climate Change Lawsuit

Youth Plaintiffs outside King County Courthouse for Oral Arguments May 15, 2015
Youth Plaintiffs outside King County Courthouse for Oral Arguments May 15, 2015

Judge Orders Washington Environmental Agency to Consider Youth-Proposed Carbon Dioxide Reductions

Seattle, Washington – On Tuesday, King County Superior Court Judge Hollis Hill issued a landmark decision in Zoe & Stella Foster v. Washington Department of Ecology, the climate change case brought by eight young citizens of Washington State. In her decision, Judge Hill ordered the Washington Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) to reconsider the petition the eight youth filed with Ecology last year asking for carbon dioxide reductions, and to report back to the court by July 8, 2015, as to whether they will consider the undisputed current science necessary for climate recovery.

Last June, the young petitioners filed a petition for rulemaking to Ecology requesting that the agency promulgate a rule that would limit carbon dioxide emissions in Washington according to what scientists say is needed to protect our oceans and climate system. The youth also asked Ecology to inform the Legislature that existing statutory greenhouse gas reductions must be revised based on current climate science. On August 14, 2014, Ecology denied the petition without disputing the underlying scientific bases for petitioner’s plea. Arguing that they have a fundamental right to a healthy environment, and that they are faced with increasing harms posed by climate destabilization and ocean acidification, the young petitioners filed an appeal of the denial to vindicate this right on behalf of themselves and future generations.

“The effect of this decision is that for the first time in the United States, a court of law has ordered a state agency to consider the most current and best available climate science when deciding to regulate carbon dioxide emissions,” said Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center, attorney for the youth petitioners. “The court directed Ecology to apply the agency’s own findings that climate change presents an imminent threat to Washington and demands immediate action. The ball is now in Ecology’s court to do the right thing and protect our children and future generations.”

In a footnote to her order, Judge Hill explained her plain reasoning for rejecting Ecology’s plan to delay action, referencing a December 2014 report from Ecology: “Ecology suggests no change in greenhouse gas reduction standards until after an international climate conference scheduled in Paris in December 2015, thus delaying action for at least a year from the date of the report or one year and five months after the report’s original due date. Neither in its briefing nor in oral argument of this appeal did the Department seek to justify this suggested delay. The report itself states that after the Paris conference Washington would be better informed how the state’s limits should be adjusted.”

“Kids understand the threats climate change will have on our future,” said 13-year-old petitioner Zoe Foster. “I’m not going to sit by and watch my government do nothing. We don’t have time to waste. I’m pushing my government to take real action on climate, and I won’t stop until change is made.”

The court’s opinion acknowledges that climate change is currently happening and will have devastating impacts on the natural environment of Washington. Citing Ecology’s December report, the court wrote: “Washington State’s existing statutory limits should be adjusted to better reflect the current science. The limits need to be more aggressive in order for Washington to do its part to address climate risks.”

Ecology has recognized that “we are imposing risks on future generations (causing intergenerational inequities) and liability for the harm that will be caused by climate change that we are unable or unwilling to avoid.” Current climate science finds that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels must be reduced from the current global annual mean concentration of 401 parts per million, to 350 ppm by 2100 in order to achieve climate stabilization and protect our oceans from catastrophic acidification.

“This encouraging court decision reminds us that there is still good basis for optimism about legal strategies that aim to require governments to draft an action plan consistent with a more stringent mitigation target than the ones that are commonly discussed,” said the youth’s expert, NASA climate scientist Dr. Pushker Kharecha. “I hope the Department of Ecology realizes that such a plan would be more achievable than they think in this case, and that they will therefore choose to amend their decision accordingly.”

“This is a decision of immense national significance,” said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust, the nonprofit spearheading similar cases around the country. “Judge Hill acknowledges the urgent and dire acceleration of global warming, refuses to accept any more bureaucratic delay, and mandates that the State consider and act in just two weeks time on the youth’s scientific evidence that atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide must be reduced to 350 ppm. This judge understands the role of the judiciary to enforce citizen’s rights to fair evaluation of their grounded petitions and the critical urgency that government act substantively and without delay to protect the state’s resources and the children who depend on them.”

“The court’s decision brings a feeling of triumph,” said 14-year-old petitioner Aji Piper. “But I know there is still a lot of work to be done. We may have one a battle, but we’re still fighting a bigger war.”

The legal geniuses of Our Children's Trust making history in Seattle for Oral Arguments, May 2015
The legal geniuses of Our Children’s Trust making history in Seattle for Oral Arguments, May 2015

The youth petitioners acted with the help of Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit orchestrating a global, game-changing, youth-driven legal campaign to establish the right to a healthy atmosphere and stable climate. The legal effort advances the fundamental duty of government today: to address the climate crisis based on scientific baselines and benchmarks, and to do so within timeframes determined by scientific analysis. Our Children’s Trust is a nonprofit organization advocating for urgent emissions reductions on behalf of youth and future generations, who have the most to lose if emissions are not reduced. OCT is spearheading the international human rights and environmental TRUST Campaign to compel governments to safeguard the atmosphere as a “public trust” resource. We use law, film, and media to elevate their compelling voices. Our ultimate goal is for governments to adopt and implement enforceable science-based Climate Recovery Plans with annual emissions reductions to return to an atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration of 350 ppm. The Western Environmental Law Center is a public interest nonprofit law firm. WELC combines legal skills with sound conservation biology and environmental science to address major environmental issues throughout the West. WELC does not charge clients and partners for services, but relies instead on charitable gifts from individuals, families, and foundations to accomplish its mission.

NOAA, Global Greenhouse Reference Network, Global CO2 for April 2015 ( 1 global.html).

Dr. Pushker Kharecha is a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies ( 2 staff/pkharecha.html) and Columbia University Earth Institute ( userid=1860).

Young People’s Day In Court

TRUST 350 from Our Children’s Trust on Vimeo.

 by James Hansen, 14 April 2014, cross-posted from Dr. Hansen’s blog

May 2 could be an historic day, as young people have their day in court, at 9:30 AM in the United States Court of Appeals in Washington, DC. This concerns the legal case that young people have filed against the United States federal government, the case for which the paper “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reductions of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature” provides the scientific basis.

A U.S. District Court earlier ruled against young people, in essence saying that the young people had not shown a Constitutional basis by which the Court could require the U.S. government to deliver a plan defining how it would reduce emissions consistent with what science shows is necessary to stabilize climate. Young people had filed their case based on the “trust” concept, the argument that the present generation has a fiducial responsibility to deliver a safe atmosphere and climate to the next generation.

The “trust” concept is well established in law and American history, as Thomas Jefferson, a farmer, argued that his generation must not deplete the soil, but rather must leave it in equally fertile condition for the next generation. However, our current Administration argued against the young people, saying that it had established the Environmental Protection Agency, and thus had sufficiently carried out its duties. Industrial polluters joined the federal government in court, arguing against the case filed by the young people.

In my opinion, the Court’s initial ruling was for the best, because it forces attention upon our most fundamental rights. Our Constitution’s purpose to “provide the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…” implies obligations to the young and the unborn. Our nation was founded on the “self-evident” concept that all people have equal rights. The Constitution assures that all people, including young people, will receive “equal protection of the laws” and that no one can be deprived of property without “due process” of law. Furthermore, this focus on fundamental rights has global relevance because of substantial commonality of our Constitution with The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In an amicus brief that I filed with 10 of my colleagues we point out that the claim by the United States government that climate change presents “the possibility of some remote future injury” evinces a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the climate threat. Our brief makes clear that atmospheric CO2 today is already in the dangerous zone, and the government should present a plan to reduce fossil fuel emissions and increase carbon uptake by the land and biosphere at rates required to reduce atmospheric CO2 this century to at most 350 ppm.

The situation is crystal clear. The climate threat is undeniable. Yet the executive and legislative branches of government, concerned with short-term politics, are failing to protect young people.

We must be sure that the judges ponder the full implications of their ruling. It would be very helpful if the court room were packed with young people, so that the judges can look in the eyes of the youth who will feel the benefit or brunt of their decision.

This court, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, is widely viewed as our most important court save only the Supreme Court, and it frequently has had a central role in affecting our national policies and law. Its judges are frequently tapped as Supreme Court Nominees.

The three judges who will hear the young people’s case are Chief Judge Garland (Clinton appointee), Senior Circuit Judge Ginsburg (Reagan appointee once nominated for the Supreme Court), and Circuit Judge Srinivasan (Obama appointee).

The Court will hear three cases on Friday morning May 2, with the case for young people (Alec L. et al. vs. Gina McCarthy, et al.) scheduled first, thus expected to be 9:30 AM. The lawyer for the young people will have 30 minutes to present their case and the government and industry will have 30 minutes to respond. The judges frequently interrupt, so much of the 30 minutes for each side may be used by the judges, but the two sides will have equal time.

After the case is argued, i.e., at about 10:30 AM the youth plan to have a rally outside the courthouse, and we will probably make plans to have lunch together, perhaps outside, depending on weather. I believe that witnessing this historic day in court for youth is worth missing a day of school, and indeed would be educational. The presence of sufficient youth could make a difference. The courtroom will hold about 120 people and there is an overflow room where the arguments can be live-streamed. If we should end up with more people than can fit in the courtrooms, their attendance outside and at the rally will make the proceedings all the more effective.

Some information on the hearing is at and a short film on the overall matter is at

Those people planning to attend, or organize attendance by a class or individual youth, should send an e-mail to both my program coordinator Nicole <> and Meg <>. We will send further details and updates as plans progress.

Jim Hansen


James Hansen Admires Ambassador Action

Ambassadors visit Sen Patty Murray

Ambassadors from Plant-For-The-Planet shared their plan to end the climate crisis with U.S. Senate staffers last week in downtown Seattle. They made very specific requests for the Senators to consider new language when they discuss climate change, drawing on Dr. James Hansen’s research into how humans might make the world cooler near 2100, but only if we act now.

One week later the preeminent climate scientist and former head of NASA climate research blogged about their brave efforts: You can read Dr. Hansen’s admiring words here: “Children and Adults on Climate Policy: Evidence that They ‘Get It'”

From his blog: “The bravery and insight of people in Washington and Oregon, as they oppose fossil fuel interests that threaten the future of young people, is exceptional and encouraging.”

The Ambassadors draw such inspiration from Dr. Hansen’s important research on behalf of “Young People, Future Generations, and Nature”; and yet in this blog the roles reversed. Clearly James Hansen draws his inspiration from the next generation, the grandchildren he strives to protect. Now his life’s work and climate science messages are starting to reach young people who “Get It”.

You can talk to your Senators, like the Ambassadors. Tell your congressperson to

  • Stop saying the words “2°C Goal” or “Target” in speeches.
  • Start telling Senators there is a real plan to keep global warming close to 1.2°C and to protect children
  • Write laws to reduce carbon pollution 6% per year and plant our share of 1,000 billion trees
  • Put a price on carbon pollution
  • Pledge “No New Carbon Pollution” to oppose dirty energy infrastructure, exploration, and exports
  • You need them to take bold action now on climate in order to protect children in the future.

As the founder of Plant-For-The-Planet, Felix Finkbeiner, says: “For us children, whether the sea level will rise 1 meter or 6 meters is not an academic question, it’s a question of survival.”

Your Senators should know that from now on you depend on them to act courageously; we all do.

Let’s act courageously.

VIDEO – Ambassadors Share Plan with Governor Inslee’s Climate Workgroup

Zoe and Wren TVW CLEW Olympia
Zoe and Wren speak to the Gov’s hearing. CLICK BELOW to watch!


Thanks a billion Zoe and Wren! Stay tuned when they finish to hear from a surprised grownup!

Zoe and Wren speak to Governor Inslee’s Climate Workgroup

Two 7th graders from Seattle announced the Washington Billion Tree Campaign as part of Plant-For-The-Planet’s global reforestation effort. With clear moral authority the 2 ambassadors set the new goal of 6% emission cuts to hold earth to 1-degree warming for this generation. Is the Workgroup listening?

From Zoe’s point of view “While I was giving my speech, I looked up at the governor and saw him taking a picture of me. It kind of freaked me out because, well, the governor was taking a picture of me, and shouldn’t it be the other way around? So I tried to keep giving my speech,  and not burst out laughing, but I got a little tripped up.”

“It was kind of freaky, but exciting.” She would definitely recommend the experience for ambassadors everywhere. “Speaking with Wren was really nice, but I probably wasn’t as scared as she was because it was her first speech, but she did great!”

Wren had the important task of announcing Washington’s Billion Tree Campaign to the Governor at the hearing. Her energy and enthusiasm certainly made tree-planting sound like fun. When Wren concluded, “So who’s ready to plant some trees?” the entire room erupted in applause and cheers!

According to Zoe there’s no time to waste. “We really need to get started because we keep talking about it, but how many trees have we actually planted? The Governor can help get people to plant trees, and he could create jobs by paying people to plant trees in our forests.”

Like the Plant-For-The-Planet campaign says, “STOP TALKING. START PLANTING.”

SIGN and SHARE their petition. The public comment period ended, but with the Workgroup split along party lines, your input is still welcome. You can also share comments directly by email:

 Ambassadors Wren and Zoe from Plant-For-The-Planet share a moment with Washington Governor Jay Inslee in Olympia.
Ambassadors Wren and Zoe from Plant-For-The-Planet share a moment with Washington Governor Jay Inslee in Olympia.

From Olympia’s newspaper The News Tribune:

Majority at Olympia climate hearing make case for less fossil fuel


Staff writer December 13, 2013

“Climate scientists may have reached a consensus about the danger of human contributions to climate change, but getting a political consensus for how to respond will take some time at the Washington state Capitol.

Friday’s third and final hearing before Gov. Jay Inslee’s climate workgroup elicited an array of messages from the environmental movement, business groups, the oil industries and a slew of individuals — including two school kids from Seattle who are part of a project planting trees and said they can’t afford to wait for action.

 Most of the roughly 50 people who spoke at the three-hour hearing at the Capitol urged the bipartisan workgroup — which has two legislators from each major party and Inslee as its non-voting chairman — to recommend that the Legislature take immediate steps to reduce carbon pollution from fossil fuels, which is implicated in global warming.”

More news and links from Olympia soon!

Check back for ambassador activity every week. Or better yet,  click to “Follow” us here on climatechangeforfamilies, so you’ll get a notice when we post news!

Dr. James Hansen Retires From NASA is honoring Dr. Hansen for his leadership across 4 decades of climate change. is honoring Dr. Hansen for his leadership across 4 decades of climate change.

Galileo. Darwin. Hansen.

A giant among scientists for taking on the burden of the most controversial and essential science in history. He faced down congress, faced censorship, and faced religious leaders in a race against time to save the world. And he never stopped working to advance knowledge. Our survival, and the survival of life as we know it, hinges on how quickly we learn to respond to the evidence that we are digging our own graves when we dig up fossil fuels. We create our own ruin, and only together can we stop it.

Yet we debate, deny and ignore the work of this man and a generation of scientists that he inspired around the world who are trying to help us save ourselves.

Today he retires.

Thank you Dr. James Hansen for a career of public service that predicts (and might still change) the course of history on earth. We owe a moment of pause to thank the man who more than any other one person has furthered the science and helped the world understand what climate change is, what it would do, and what we must do to avoid the very worst before it happens. Because of his dedication and skill, now we know: Stop using fossil fuels, Change the history of Earth.

Essential James Hansen links:


Scientific Case for Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change for Young People and Nature:

Take a trip to NASA’s website to explore the amazing work Dr. Hansen guided. Consider how much this man has done to further our understanding of our only home, to make us all more aware of how our destiny rests in our hands.

Link to the page where current updates from his most important works can be found all in one place:

In his career, Dr. Hansen taught us about climate tipping points. But lately he’s been describing a “human tipping point”. Here’s hoping his work was not in vain, that you and I will take up his call to urgent action, and that we will work tirelessly to stop using fossil fuels and reach the “human tipping point” in time. We can still abandon this human-caused mass extinction event, driven by an insatiable ship of fuels. But we have to do it today.

Sign a petition today in honor of Dr. James Hansen demanding the State Dept reject the Keystone XL pipeline, a fitting tribute for a man who was arrested twice in front of the White House demanding a stop to the pipeline.

Visit and sign:


Read his  Op-Ed in the LA Times on April 4th to preview what Dr. Hansen plans to do in “retirement”.

Read more about his career in this April 4th tribute in the NYTimes. From the article, “Jim has a real track record of being right before you can actually prove he’s right with statistics.”

Dr. Hansen certainly did his best. Now it’s up to you and me.

Tar Sands Action Week

Northern Boreal Forest before and after Tar Sands Oil strip-mining
The “Lungs of the earth”absorb 3x more CO2 than the Amazon rainforest Abruptly transformed into industrial wastelands

All across the nation this week, activists like you will stand up to the companies that profit from building the Keystone XL pipeline. Stay engaged and find a blockade action you can support! Every voice counts. Make yours loud and clear. Show up for an event this week!

Follow the link to Tar Sands Blockade where you will find the actions map. Learn how you can support local groups to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline during this national week of action. Dr. James Hansen states that if the pipeline is approved, it’s “game over” for the climate. If we want to sustain life on earth, we cannot afford to burn the oil and gas we already drilled, much less if we speed up strip-mining this filthiest fuel, and build new infrastructure to burn more of it faster. Look at these photos of Alberta tar sands mining. This is the stuff we use to drive cars now? It’s easy to imagine why this carbon-dense bitumen mining really will tip us over the edge, unless we do everything we can to stop it today!

Athabasca River 2
The Athabasca River in Canada, one of the world’s largest wilderness watersheds, and now home to Tar Sands strip-mining, shown here as it has been and will be for thousands of years. If we will only leave the tar sands in the ground.

“Leave it in the ground!”

The Goal and the Countdown Clock

If you are a parent like me you may wonder sometimes, with all the terrible pollution and destruction going on, “Am I doing enough? to protect my kids? to protect nature? Will changing my light bulbs really save humanity?”

Wonder no more. Simply follow the link to the one paper we all need to read, written by the world’s leading climatologists on behalf of young people who are suing the federal government and all 50 states, to win a plan for a habitable planet. This paper scientifically outlines what we need to protect young people and nature from dangerous climate change. It spells out the basics of where we are today and where we have to get to, and our deadline.

The plan spells out what our physical earth demands if it is going to continue supporting life as we know it. In other words, what the children are suing for is nothing less than the planet’s requirements for sustaining life into the next millenia.

In the paper, “Scientific  Case for Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change to Protect Young People and Nature” James Hansen describes reaching a tipping point soon, a “human tipping point” where we will begin to take drastic action to reverse our current path. Thanks for joining me to bring about that human tipping point before our clock runs out.

To protect our children and nature from the worst consequences of changing climate, we need:

  • 6% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions each year,
  • combined with massive reforestation, if we want to avoid the worst consequences for our children and nature, and
  • we might return the planet to a stable state by the end of this century
  • that’s if we start in 2013

Waiting until 2020 to start reducing emissions means the planet will require 15% annual reductions in GHG emissions.

So if 6% per year sounds hard, imagine what it would take to achieve 15% year after year. And waiting to get started means we will suffer more severe consequences in the next few decades than if we start today. We risk triggering “runaway” climate change as the temperatures continue to climb over this century.

Or look at it this way, the light bulb you change today to stop CO2 when we need to reduce 6% a year, counts much more than waiting 7 years and doing the exact same thing when we’ll need 15% reductions. Every little bit we save today grows like money in the bank, clearing the air for our kids’ future. So why not get started?

Have we already missed our opportunity? Possibly.

Does 6% every year seem too hard? Yes.

Doing nothing and complaining while the clock keeps ticking down seems too hard for me. I just can’t Not Do Anything! That’s not an option when my kids’ future is on the line.

I want to look my children in the eye and say, “I’m doing the best I can while there’s still time, and I’m getting everyone else to do the same.”

Because if we all do our best, we will be the generation that stops the clock on global warming. And then we can start turning it backwards!