Real Leaders

16-year-old Sues Trump Over Climate Change

Photo by Simon Abrams on Unsplash

Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez is not your average 16-year-old. He’s busy mobilizing an army of teenagers in over 50 countries to demand greener policies from world leaders. He’s also in a race to save climate change data before the Trump administration can destroy it.

He’s been dubbed the “Kid Warrior” by some, a green activist by others, and a plaintiff by the Trump administration. Along with 20 other youth activists, some as young as age 9, Roske-Martinez is suing the Trump Administration and U.S. government over future damages to his generation caused by unsound environmental policies. Children have more to lose from climate change than adults as they will be living in the climate-changed future – not the lawmakers, and politicians, alive today.

The chief legal counsel representing the children is Julia Olson, an environmental attorney and mother who had a moment of awareness and fear in 2006 around what her unborn child might have to deal with in the future if environmental issue weren’t taken seriously.

The legal motion was originally brought against the Obama administration, but since Trump’s inaugaration as the 45th president of the United States in January this year, it’s become his responsibility to answer the charges. The lawsuit has been called “the biggest case on the planet” and makes a constitutional argument that future, unborn generations and the young people of today, are being discriminated against because they don’t have the right to vote for environmental laws that will affect their collective futures.

The Obama administration submitted several motions to dismiss the case in 2016, and were rejected, with the case now heading to trial. In keeping with federal statutes, the current president, Donald Trump, has been substituted for Barack Obama as the defendant. The Trump administration filed two motions on 7 March 2017 – one an appeal against the ruling by Judge Ann Aiken last year that dismissed Obama’s motion, and a second, that trial preparations be postponed until the first motion is resolved.

Three oil industry groups, the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, and the American Petroleum Institute, have all joined the fray by claiming that the suit poses a clear threat to their businesses, allowing them to participate in the government’s defense.

Their requests were granted. 

The 21 children are not seeking financial compensation or damages as damages for a future event (climate change) have not been incurred yet. The lawsuit has also been updated to prohibit the Trump administration from destroying and removing data that relates to climate change – as reported at Wired earlier this year, that reveals how a group of scientists are racing to save crucial climate data from government websites and upload it to before it gets removed.

“The Federal Government has known for decades that CO2 pollution from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change,” said Xiuhtezcatl in a press release announcing the suit on August 12 2015. “It also knew that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize our climate system, significantly harming my generation and generations to come. Despite knowing these dangers, the defendants did nothing to prevent this harm. In fact, my Government increased the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to levels it knew were unsafe.”

His partner in this action? His 80-year-old grandfather, Makasha Roske, proof that generations separated by vastly different experiences can work together for a better future.

Roske-Martinez has addressed the United Nations three times, defining his activism around climate change as less about the environment and more of a human rights issue. In this exclusive video, filmed at the U.N. Global Compact Leaders Summit in New York, he talks to Real Leaders about his world view and why he’s embarked on this course of action.


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