Is the Government Accountable for Climate Change?

by Abby Schantz

In “Oregon teens sue state: Can local government be held accountable for climate change?” Samantha Laine tells the story of two teenagers who are attempting to sue the government for not protecting its people from climate change. Three years ago, Kelsey Juliana and Olivia Chernaik, at the ages of 14 and 11 respectively, filed a lawsuit in the Lane County Circuit Court. Juliana and Chernaik argued that the state of Oregon was violating the public trust doctrine by not working to mitigate climate change rapidly. House Bill 3542, which was introduced 8 years ago and set carbon emission reduction goals, was unaccomplished. The teens argued that just as the government protects forests, oceans, and other natural resources, it is the state’s responsibility to protect the atmosphere. A nonprofit organization, Our Children Trust, has backed Juliana and Chernaik throughout the suit. Kitty Piercy, mayor of the girls’ hometown, Eugene, has also supported their plea, as has one of the world’s leading climate scientists, James Hansen. On the other hand, many have criticized the case for reasons including Oregon’s small impact on the amount of CO2 produced (0.01%) globally and what is viewed as the waste of a court’s time and money. Judge Karsten Rasmussen dismissed the case on the grounds that a court lacks authority to require state officials to reduce greenhouse emissions because climate change is a political question. The girls appealed, and the Oregon Court of Appeals has sent the case back to the lower court for a trial on March 13th, 2015, which will address whether the atmosphere is considered a public trust.


Laine, S., 2015. Oregon teens sue state: Can local government be held accountable for climate change? Cristian Science Monitor, January 21st, 2015.

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