At a Glance :
— Our Children’s Trust filed a lawsuit against Alaska’s government.The plaintiffs are
— 16 children and young adults ranging in age from 7 to 20.
— The kids allege the government has not taken responsibility for climate change.
A group of children and young adults has sued Alaska’s government, alleging the state is threatening their fundamental human rights by not taking responsibility for climate change.
Esau Sinnok, 20, comes from a long line of Inupiaq Eskimos who have inhabited a small Alaskan barrier island, Sarichef, and others like it for some 4,000 years, according to the complaint.
The residents of his village, Shishmaref, voted last year to relocate as hopes dwindled that their island home could be saved from the ravages of the rising sea. The island is a mere quarter-mile wide and two and a half miles long and loses about 3 to 10 yards every year to the sea. Since 1969, nearly 70 yards of the shore has eroded away, according to a relocation study published in February 2016. Numerous homes have fallen into the sea.
The complaint notes the Sinnok family has had its fair share of frightening moments as a result of rising seas. During a large storm in 20014, Sinnok had to help evacuate his grandparents and their belongings because ocean waves were slamming against the house.
“Each storm erodes the banks of the island and exposes more permafrost, which then thaws more quickly and accelerates further erosion,” said the complaint filed by Our Children’s Trust.
Eventually, the villagers came to terms with the reality of the situation and decided to move to the mainland, making it one of the first climate refugee communities in the United States.
It won’t likely be the last.
Sinnok is one of 16 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit that ranges in age from 7 to 20. The determined youth say the government is giving too much support to the oil and gas industry and not enough on environmental concerns.
“Being involved with this case is one step to tell the Alaska state government that we need to act on climate change and stop the use of fossil fuels,” Esau Sinnok, one of the plaintiffs, told Earther. “The state is putting the short-term interest of the oil and gas industry above those of Alaskan youths’ future.”
According to the complaint, officials in Alaska have known about the causes and effects of climate change since 1998, yet the government has done little to slow the carbon emissions that come from burning fossil fuels.
The kids say they are asking the court “to enforce Alaska’s constitutional obligations to protect their inalienable and fundamental constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, equal protection, public trust resources and a stable climate system that sustains human life and liberty.”
The lawsuit filed in Alaska is one of several pending in the U.S. by the same group, including one against President Donald Trump. In all of the suits, the demand is that states and the federal government cut carbon emissions to reduce carbon dioxide levels from their current 400 parts per million to 350 ppm, based on work conducted by climate scientist James Hansen.
Andrew Welle, an attorney with Our Children’s Trust, told Earther that “native culture (which is now threatened by climate change) is such an important facet of life in Alaska.”
“Some of their rights are fundamentally threatened by climate change,” he added. “It does play into our constitutional argument. It fundamentally changes these plaintiffs’ cultural identities.”
Sinnok told Earther he’s fighting not only for Shishmaref, but also for other communities facing a similar fate.
“My home in the next few decades will be gone, the island will be underwater,” he said. “I don’t want that for any other communities here in Alaska.”