Florida Kids Sue Gov. Scott Over Climate Change: You Have 'Moral Obligation' to Protect Us

The case, connected to the federal Our Children’s Trust climate lawsuit, is one of nine pressuring states to take action on global warming and fossil fuels.

Hurricane Irma flooded parts of Jacksonville, Florida. Credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Warming ocean water contributes to sea level rise and can strengthen hurricanes. Hurricane Irma's storm surge last year was the latest to flood Jacksonville, Florida. Credit: Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Eight young Floridians, ages 10 to 19, sued their state and its climate-policy-averse governor on Monday for failing to protect residents from the impacts of a warming climate.

They say they already see signs of climate change around them—from powerful hurricanes to extreme heat waves to tidal flooding that now regularly washes into coastal roads and parks as sea level rises—and they want the state to do something about it.

The lawsuit filed Monday is the latest in a wave of legal cases filed by children against states and the federal government that accuse government of depriving them of the fundamental right to a stable climate.

The Florida plaintiffs accuse the state of violating their constitutional rights by "perpetuating an energy system that is based on fossil fuels."

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"The plaintiffs are asking the state of Florida to adhere to its legal and moral obligation to protect current and future generations from the intensifying impacts of climate change," the group said in a statement.

Their lawsuit asks that state officials "prepare and implement an enforceable comprehensive" plan to phase out fossil fuel use and "draw down excess atmospheric CO2 through forest and soil protection so as to stabilize the climate system."

Gov. Rick Scott and Climate Change

The lawsuit names the state, Republican Gov. Rick Scott, state agencies and the heads of those agencies as defendants.

In 2015, journalists in Florida reported that Scott had placed a gag order on the terms "climate change" and "global warming" within state's Department of Environmental Protection—an especially notable move, given the state is among the most vulnerable to climate change, with 1,000 miles of coastline and millions of people living in low-lying areas.

Scott has also ducked questions about climate change, using the response: "I'm not a scientist."

The governor's office responded to questions about the lawsuit in an emailed statement: "The Governor signed one of the largest environmental protection budgets in Florida's history last month—investing $4 billion into Florida's environment," said McKinley Lewis, a spokesperson for Scott. "The Governor is focused on real solutions to protect our environment—not political theater or a lawsuit orchestrated by a group based in Eugene, Oregon."

Florida Teens Fight for Their Future

Delaney Reynolds, 18, a fourth-generation Floridian who has become a prominent advocate and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, wrote to the state's environmental regulators in 2014, asking what the department was doing to address climate change.

She said the agency response was: not much.

In a blog post Monday, Reynolds wrote that the response was "unacceptable" and a reason she decided to sue the state.

"Our climate change crisis is the biggest issue that my generation will ever face, and it's up to us, today's children, to fix this problem," Reynolds wrote. "It is my hope that the court will rule to require that Florida enact and enforce laws to reduce and eliminate carbon emissions so that our state and citizens can have a future here."

Kids' Federal Climate Case Gets a Court Date

Our Children's Trust, a group that advocates for science-based climate policy, is supporting the federal case and other youth-led legal efforts across the country.

In 2015, Our Children's Trust and 21 young people from across the country sued the federal government on the same legal grounds, saying the government was violating the public trust by failing to protect a common resource. The fossil fuel industry has repeatedly, but unsuccessfully, attempted to keep the case from advancing. (Levi Draheim, a 10-year-old Floridian, is a co-plaintiff in that case, as well as in the lawsuit filed Monday.)

Last week, a federal magistrate judge set a trial date for the federal case: Oct. 29, 2018, in federal district court in Oregon.

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