Federal appeals court dismisses young people's climate lawsuit

The lawsuit alleges the U.S. government knowingly failed to protect 21 young people from climate change. 60 Minutes first reported on the suit last year.

Juliana v. United States: The climate lawsuit

A federal appeals court last Friday dismissed a landmark climate change lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans against the federal government. Two of the three judges on the Ninth Circuit panel argued that the courts are not the place to resolve the climate crisis.  
 
60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft reported on the case last year. He spoke with Oregon lawyer Julia Olson, who recruited the "climate kids" from environmental groups around the country. Their suit alleged that the use of fossil fuels is causing climate change, and the government's continued support of the fossil fuel industry endangers the plaintiffs' future and violates their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property.

Olson told Kroft that a trove of documents she has collected proves every president since Lyndon B. Johnson has known about the potentially catastrophic effects of fossil fuels.

"Our government, at the highest levels, knew and was briefed on it regularly by the national security community, by the scientific community," Olson said. "They have known for a very long time that it was a big threat."

According to the majority opinion, written by Judge Andrew D. Hurwitz, the plaintiffs "have made a compelling case that action is needed." But he continued: "Reluctantly, we conclude that such relief is beyond our constitutional power. Rather, the plaintiffs' impressive case for redress must be presented to the political branches of government."

U.S. District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton wrote a scathing dissent, rebuking the notion that the courts can play no role. 

"In these proceedings, the government accepts as fact that the United States has reached a tipping point crying out for a concerted response—yet presses ahead toward calamity," she wrote. "It is as if an asteroid were barreling toward Earth and the government decided to shut down our only defenses. Seeking to quash this suit, the government bluntly insists that it has the absolute and unreviewable power to destroy the Nation." 

The group told 60 Minutes they plan to appeal the decision.