Kelsey Juliana

JulianaWhen it comes to standing up to climate change Kelsey Juliana is relentless, and expects you to be, too.

“If you’re wondering if you’re doing enough, then the answer is probably not,” said Juliana, 20, a college student currently working with Partners for Sustainable Schools to teach children about sustainability and the environment.

“If you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not being honest about what we’re up against.”

Growing up in Eugene, Juliana said her passion for the environment was instilled in her by her parents from a young age, and from a young age she’s quickly ratcheted up her activism, from writing reports in middle school to taking part in protest marches, to now being part of a federal lawsuit to force the United States government to act to prevent the consequences of climate change.

For her TED talk, Juliana will share her experience being part of the landmark US Federal climate lawsuit, and how it has reinforced her belief in millennials to change the world.

Being a part of the proceedings, being in the courtroom to attend the hearings has been a “huge honor, and a huge privilege,” she said.

On November 10 of last year in a momentous decision, a federal court in Eugene ruled against the government’s motion to dismiss, paving the way for Juliana and 20 other youth plaintiffs ages 9 to 20 to sue the federal government to take decisive actions to limit carbon emissions. The core argument – Allowing climate change to happen is in fact depriving the youngest generation of its constitutional right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and is therefore fundamentally unconstitutional.

“It’s beautiful… that [litigation has] been the way to seek justice for any marginal group,” she said.

“We are personally affected by climate change,” Juliana said. “We are not okay with the fact that people allowing this and causing this are elected to protect us from harm.”

It feels fair to say that federal litigation is not the kind of childhood memory most people have. But that’s precisely the point, according to Juliana. Millennials are not the distracted slackers of media portrayal, but are, like her, active and aware. They need to be taken seriously as agents of change, she said.

“Young people don’t just have cute pictures of polar bears,” she said, “they have real ideas and innovative solutions and they need them to be taken seriously.”

And they don’t need your sympathy.

“Applaud us but join us.”

At a personal level, it’s her passion for children that motivates Kelsey Juliana. Teaching school children about the environment and sustainability is her way of being true to herself, which is the key to empowering each of us to make a difference, she said.

“Everyone always asks, ‘What can I do?’ But instead of just calling congressmen, reflect on yourself,” she said.

“Who are you, what makes you happy? Then transition that to: What do you love, what do you care about? What kind of world do you want to see in 20 years?”

“People contribute very different things,” she said. “Each of us has a unique gift that we can offer.” 

 Learn more about the case and the plaintiff’s legal representation, Our Children’s Trust, here.

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