When Alex Loznak messaged Jacob Lebel about joining him as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the federal government concerning climate change, for Lebel, accepting seemed like the most natural thing to do.
The Douglas County residents, who found themselves opposing the Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas pipeline project, have become recognizable as two of the 21 youth plaintiffs, alleging that the government violated their Constitutional rights by knowingly contributing to climate change for decades. The lawsuit seeks to compel the federal government to take immediate steps to drastically reduce carbon emissions that climate scientists say cause global warming.
Loznak and Lebel told their story to a standing-room-only crowd in a conference room at the Holiday Inn Express in Roseburg on Wednesday night. The two discussed the background of the case, where it stands now and what to expect in the future.
Lebel, one of the youth plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States ranging in ages from 10 to 21, said signs of climate change are everywhere.
“All of our properties are at risk of climate change-induced drastic and severe changes we’re seeing in our community,” Lebel said, citing the Third Oregon Climate Assessment report that states climate change will lead to longer fire seasons in the Pacific Northwest and a 140 percent increase in total area burned each year from the 1900s to the 21st century. He said Douglas County has seen the four hottest summers on record during the last 5 years.
According to NASA’s global atmospheric records, the carbon dioxide level has surpassed 400 parts per million, more than 100 ppm higher than in 1950.
“The change from just before 1950 to the modern era, that’s the same amount of change from the last ice age to current times, and New York City was under a mile-thick sheet of ice during the last ice age,” said Loznak, a Columbia University student who spends 9 months of the year in New York.
“What can be done? We really believe the youth of this country have got to push for the answer and the solution and that relies on the court system of the United States,” Loznak said. As part of the science-based plan the plaintiffs are asking for, the goal is to reduce the amount of carbon emissions in the atmosphere from over 400 ppm today to below 350 ppm by year 2100. This would put pressure on the executive branch and Congress to make sure their decisions line up with this goal.
Loznak’s family operates an organic farm that his great-great-great-great-grandmother founded about 150 years ago. He said the rising temperatures could lead to the death of the trees at his farm.
Meanwhile, Lebel’s own family farm produces almost all the food his family eats, but droughts, wildfires and heat extremes as a result of climate change would drastically affect his orchards and animals, he said. He has written environmental stories for Planet Forward and won an award for a story he wrote about Port Orford’s sustainable fishing, winning a trip to the Amazon where he learned more about the threats of climate change.
Lebel and Loznak first met about two years ago when they both became involved in speaking against the proposed Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas project and Pacific Connector Pipeline, claiming the project would create the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Oregon, threaten streams and call for eminent domain over local landowners’ properties. Lebel said he didn’t hesitate when Loznak asked him to join the lawsuit.
Lebel said the plaintiffs are all young people because the youth of today will be disproportionately affected by climate change.
“Donald Trump and his administration will be long gone by the time we experience the full brunt of what their decisions are locking in right now,” Lebel said. He added it’s powerful to hear children talk about how climate change is personally affecting their lives, like the youngest plaintiff Levi Draheim, 10, whose home in low-lying Satellite Beach, Florida, is at risk of being underwater by the end of the century.
So far, federal Judge Ann Aiken has decided the plaintiffs have legal standing to move forward with the case. The lawsuit is on hold while the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals considers a motion by the Trump administration to dismiss the case.
Both sides argued before a three-judge panel in December and now await a ruling. Loznak and Lebel said they both remain optimistic the case will go to trial.
“What we’re asking in our lawsuit is highly popular with voters and is necessary for the survival of human civilization as a whole,” Lebel said. “If we do not do anything about climate change it will be threatened, whether it’s from mass refugee crises from cities in the Middle East that will become uninhabitable in the near future because they have become too hot and too dry, or rising sea levels taking out major coastal cities around the world, all that unrest we’re already seeing in the world multiplied by 10 times or 100 times.”