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These Youth Are Suing Their State For A Livable Future

Above photo: From Nature’s Trust RI.

Providence, RI—Nature’s Trust Rhode Island, a youth-driven campaign for the legal right to a healthy climate, joined by Sisters of Mercy Ecology, today initiated legal action to compel the State of Rhode Island to step up and do its fair share to stop climate change before it is too late.  

Today’s action, a petition to the Department of Environmental Management (DEM), starts a 30-day clock ticking. During that time, DEM will either initiate a public process to consider and implement this proposal, or the department will have to justify its inaction to the courts.

The petition delivered to DEM shows that state agencies have not lived up to their obligations according to the Rhode Island Constitution. This neglect of duty has been on display in the agency’s role in issuing permits for major fossil fuel projects, such as the expansion of the compressor station in Burrillville, RI, and the expansion of the LNG facility in Fields Point.

Stephen, a freshman at the University of Rhode Island, has lived all of his life in a the coastal village of Snug Harbor. The warming and acidifying ocean have negatively impacted the fishing industry, so that Stephen’s father can no longer make a living fishing. He saw it coming 25 years ago, but DEM told him at the time that his evidence was merely anecdotal. The lesson Stephen learned is, “I must assert with utmost passion and sincerity that I believe the government of Rhode Island is not upholding their responsibility as a trustee of our environment, and I must hope that I am not silenced just as my father was stifled by the word ‘anecdotal’ 25 years ago.”

Also Catherine, a University of Rhode Island alum, is keenly aware of the responsibility of the Rhode Island government: “If the state of Rhode Island does not do more to mitigate the impact of this activity through laws and regulations supported by research and community outreach, it will be neglecting its duty to protect the public good in the interest of its citizens.”

Chip, a graduate student in physics at the University of Rhode Island said about his reason to join the legal action was “to aid in the fight against climate change deniers and engage in environmental policy. There is clear evidence that human action has caused an acceleration in climate change and we must do everything we can to stop our deterioration of the planet.”

Chloe, a 16-year old petitioner and student at the Met High School in Providence, talking about climate change said, “It destroys lives, happiness and resources which I and everyone else so badly need. I care about this because this is my life. This is the life of my future children, and I will not stand for them living in fear and uncertainty as many people live.” Philip, 14 years old, lives in East Providence,  and said, “Climate change is going to mean a lot to our state.  The Ocean State will mean that we are literally under water. The name Rhode Island will mean a bunch of islands.  I love Goosewing Beach in Little Compton and Colt State Park in Bristol; if we don’t act now, they’ll be islands. We’ll to have to build a lot of bridges just to get around. I don’t want that to be my future.”

Alex, a graduate student at the University of Rhode Island, said about her motivations: “Some of my favorite things in the entire world are threatened by human development, climate change, more severe storms, and extreme weather, threatening human health, wildlife, and plants. I will not take this destruction sitting down.” Carmen, a 13-year old Nathan Bishop Middle School in Providence said, “If we don’t reduce carbon pollution, sea levels will rise and our beaches will soon be underwater. Carbon pollution also dissolves into the ocean and kills marine life. The government is not taking the problem seriously enough!”

Jeremi (11) of Providence shared this message:

Dear adults of Rhode Island,

We are here to tell you that this beautiful planet we live on belongs to us too.

We children of Rhode Island and me specific of Providence demand that you stop polluting it.

If you continue to destroy our planet we will have nothing. We will not simply stay quiet and play our video games all day. We will stand up; I will stand up. In my school we are learning about revolution and revolts.

We learned about the Haitian revolution. I feel in my heart that climate justice is our revolution.

Hear me now,  

we will revolt,

take back our planet

and WIN.

Thank you!

Meghan, a student at West Warwick High School, said, “The people who make the decisions that matter to everyone may not make the best choices all the time, but we still can. We can still save our planet. Without doing this the future of the entire planet is damaged.”

Neelam, a freshman at the University of Rhode Island, echoed this same sense of responsibility, stating: “We must realize our mistakes before the window of opportunity is permanently closed. We are presently in the middle of our sixth mass extinction and have little room for more mistakes.”

The petition and the regulations it asks DEM to put in place are based on, the best available science. The petition also relies on duties contained in the state’s constitution to protect the public trust, including the duty to protect “the air, land, water, plant, animal, mineral and other natural resources of the state.” Environmental justice is another core principle, one that is clearly violated by the proposed expansion of the LNG facility at Fields Point.

Much of what climate scientists have predicted for the last 50 years is already happening, but actual developments have outpaced projections.  In the presence of current reverse action at the federal level, it is clear that each state must act promptly and boldly to eliminate fossil fuel emissions and draw down those already wreaking havoc with our global weather system.

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