Levi Draheim is 11 years old and suing the United States government for violating his constitutional rights.
Draheim is one of the plaintiffs in the case Juliana v. United States. In 2015, 21 students from across the country filed their case in the U.S. District Court in Eugene, Oregon. They claim that by enacting policies contributing to “dangerous” concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, the U.S. government has “violated and are violating the plaintiffs’ fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty and property.”
“It’s an environmental case,” said UMKC School of Law professor Dr. Irma Russell. “But it’s about our rights rather than the environment as a separate party.”
On Monday, Oct. 29, rallies supporting the student plaintiffs and their causes were held in cities across the country, including Kansas City. Students from UMKC and Mizzou, faculty and local Kansas Citians gathered at the University Playhouse to represent their organizations and show support for the #TrialoftheCentury.
In filing this suit, the student plaintiffs hope to force the U.S. government to:
- enact policies that will phase out the use of fossil fuels
- reduce atmospheric levels of CO2
- abolish current policies that are deemed harmful to the environment
- protect the earth for future generations
The student plaintiffs are also asking the Supreme Court to monitor and enforce compliance with these demands.
“Once the judiciary recognizes a right, the other branches of government need to protect that right,” said Russell.
The Supreme Court unanimously held that the student plaintiffs’ case should proceed, and after the Court issued a brief stay on behalf of the United States Department of Justice, the case is ready to move forward again.
Among the students in attendance at the rally was Geneva Tilbury, the president of Fossil Free UMKC, a student organization aimed at pushing the UM System to divest from fossil fuels. Similar organizations already exist on other University of Missouri campuses, including Mizzou.
The 2016 University of Missouri Endowment Pool data showed that, as of 2016, UM System had approximately $10 million directly invested in the fossil fuel industry.
However, in 2017, former UM System President Mun Choi denied the Mizzou Energy Action Coalition’s request to divest from fossil fuels.
“It’s deceptively simple,” said Tilbury.
At the rally, Tilbury spoke candidly about the need for all entities to end their reliance on fossil fuels and instead invest in the renewable energy sector. She said that such action would simplify the often-complicated problem of solving climate change because this is a more tangible solution.