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Avery McRae is an eleven year old girl from Oregon. She plays the piano and loves to ride horses. In the mornings, she feeds her chickens named after flowers. And she is currently suing the President of the United States.

In a landmark lawsuit, Avery and 20 other children aged 9-20 from across the globe are accusing the US Federal Government of violating their constitutional rights to life, liberty and property through its continued promotion of the fossil fuel industry and failure to take necessary steps to cut emissions. If successful, this case forces the government to put drastic measures in place to keep warming below ‘safe’ limits. The case – Juliana v. United States – first surfaced in 2015 against the Obama Administration, and was mostly dismissed. However, little is stronger than the resolution of young people, and our 21 plaintiffs are back with a vengeance, this time taking on Donald Trump. Unsurprisingly, Trump is doing absolutely everything in his power to make this go away, but last month a federal judge declared that the case will go to trial on 5th February 2018, and it’s looking unlikely Trump’s efforts to have this decision reviewed will be able to change that.

hansen found removing carbon dioxide can be achieved through relatively simple techniques.

In other news, father of climate change awareness and notorious ‘bad boy’ of climate science James Hansen published a paper last month declaring the children of today will have to invest in some sort of carbon dioxide removal technology in the future if we are to avoid absolute disaster. Hansen and his team found the majority of this removal could be achieved through relatively simple alterations in agricultural techniques, with the possibility of needing to look into more expensive and risky technologies such as Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS). What this means is that individual lifestyle changes just won’t cut it anymore. There must be some form of policy change at the highest level, as well as a reassessment of the way fossil fuel companies deal with emitted CO2.

The irony should not be lost on you, therefore, that within literally the same week Hansen published this landmark paper, Trump appointed vehement climate sceptic and former radio talk show host Sam Clovis as Head Scientist of the Agriculture Department. Suddenly those agricultural changes are looking a lot less likely.

a decades-long crusade of lassaiz-faire politics and large corporations have nurtured a public mood of individualism  and self-blame.

Against this backdrop of overwhelming leadership failure, why is the lawsuit so monumental? Everyone loves a good David and Goliath story, but these children are fighting against more than just one very powerful man in a suit. They represent vital recognition of the necessity of mass movements, rather than individual lifestyle changes. Switching off your light when you leave in the morning shows admirable intention, but even the greenest choices are rendered completely moot by the fossil fuel industry. The tobacco companies of our time, these companies pump out quantities of carbon dioxide so huge they dwarf that of individual lives, whilst shirking the guilt to us when we grab a taxi rather than walking. If morals were millions, they’d be bankrupt. But this isn’t the case, and they’re rich.

So why the obsession with seemingly ineffectual personal behavioural changes?

In a crusade spanning decades, a combination of lassaiz-faire (free market) politics and large corporations have worn away the collaborative nature of society in the Western world, and nurtured a public mood of individualism and self-blame. In this neoliberal reality, we have been taught to think of ourselves as consumers first and citizens second, and that the solution to systemic problems such as poverty and inequality is personal change. It seems Margaret Thatcher’s vision of ‘no such thing as society’ stands true.

‘maybe this lawsuit will mean the current US administration is forced to take material steps – leaps in symbolic terms – towards a clean economy’.

It doesn’t take an expert to spot how this thinking has infiltrated action against climate change. In one of the biggest hypocrisies facing the world, government initiatives relentlessly push us towards cycling and energy saving lightbulbs, while backing the very system putting stress on the planet in the first place. Clearly, monumental changes are necessary, and this does include those at an individual level, but left-wing voices demand our attention ever more urgently (Naomi Klein’s ‘This Changes Everything’, for example, is as relevant today as it was three years ago, if not more so). It’s about time we recognised how the society we’ve become used to is discouraging the collaboration we must be turning towards; until we grasp this, we have little chance of avoiding drastic consequences.

Is there hope?

A lawsuit against one of the most powerful economies in the world is more than just a step in the right direction. It’s a giant leap towards the collective action we desperately need. Maybe Avery and the other children will be successful. Maybe Trump won’t be able to wave his magic wand and make this go away. Maybe this lawsuit will mean the current US administration is forced to take material steps — leaps in symbolic terms — towards a clean economy.

But if you think there is a one-stop solution to the climate crisis, you haven’t been paying attention.

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