juliana vs us rally Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

The Dred Scott of Climate Change?

Juliana v. United States is, in the words of Princeton philosopher Peter Singer, a historical turning point, because it addresses the rights of children and future Americans to a livable environment. But what if US courts ultimately rule that future generations have no standing to sue?

WASHINGTON, DC – In 2015, 21 young people between the ages of 11 and 22 filed a major lawsuit against the US government for failing to limit the effects of climate change. In Juliana v. United States, the plaintiffs argue that because they will have to live with the repercussions of global warming for much longer than anyone else, on average, the government’s failure to protect the environment violates their constitutional rights to equal protection under the law and due process.

The philosopher Peter Singer points out that this case represents a historical turning point, because it addresses the rights of children and future Americans to a livable environment. But the trial is about more than the environment; it will have far-reaching implications for intergenerational justice more broadly.

Consider the issue of public debt. There have always been moral objections to one generation burdening the next with excessive debt, effectively limiting young people’s future liberty by impinging on their ability to form families, educate children, and create wealth. With US federal deficits rising toward $1 trillion a year, the issue is becoming cripplingly urgent.

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