Children and students sue Florida governor over fossil fuel energy policy that 'violates their constitutional rights'

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A group of children and students from Florida have sued Republican governor Rick Scott, alleging his fossil fuel-dependent energy policy is adding to climate change and violating their constitutional right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.

The eight youngsters, ranging in age from from 10 to 20, claim that rather than making use of the state’s abundant sources of renewable energy, Florida had imported $56bn worth of fossil fuels that had led to huge carbon emissions. They said if Florida were a separate country, it would be the world’s 26th largest carbon polluter.

“The Sunshine State gets less than one per cent of its energy from solar power,” said Oscar Psychas, 20, from Gainesville, the oldest of the plaintiffs.

Speaking at a press conference in the state’s capital, Tallahassee, he added: “Last spring I walked to 280 miles from my home in Gainesville to Tallahassee to demand our state’s leaders protect our wild places. During my walk I saw climate change firsthand during the hottest spring ever recorded in Florida and forests dying from sea level rise along the Gulf Coast. 

“I’m back in Tallahassee today because I’ve seen that when our leaders destroy a stable climate, everything we care about — our wild places, our communities, our basic rights to life, liberty, and property – is endangered.”

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Guy Burns, who is serving as lead counsel for the young plaintiffs said that Florida had an amazing opportunity to make use of its renewable energy sources, that included solar, wave and wind. Instead, he claimed the state government had promoted the use of fossil fuels. “It is the responsibility of the state to uphold the constitution, and these young people have a fundamental right to a stable climate system,” he said.

The civil lawsuit is not seeking financial damages. Rather, it wants the court to order a science-based climate recovery plan and for the state government to acknowledge climate change is real and that climate change impacts are harming the youth plaintiffs. 

They also want Florida to reduce global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to below 350 parts per million by 2100, the level scientists have developed to achieve global climate stabilisation.    

Levi Draheim, a 10-year-old from Satellite Beach, said in a statement: “We can’t delay anymore because climate change is a huge problem. We must deal with it right now and start reducing the emissions that are causing it. We need to fix the problem not just talk about it.”

Lushia Phillips, a 14-year-old plaintiff from Miami, said: “I’m excited that children like us can do something about sea level rise.

“A lot of people know the issues, but they don’t speak out against them. Climate change is only going to get worse and adults are leaving it to our generation to fix it. Our generation wants to fix climate change now and we can’t do it alone.”

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of actions that have been filed by lawyers representing young people from across the country, all with support from pro bono attorneys and the Oregon-based campaign group Our Children’s Trust.  

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for Mr Scott, said in a statement: “The governor signed one of the largest environmental protection budgets in Florida’s history last month – investing $4bn into Florida’s environment. 

“The governor is focused on real solutions to protect our environment – not political theatre or a lawsuit orchestrated by a group based in Eugene, Oregon.” 

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