Guest Editorial: Lawsuit Against Governor and State Clears Hurdle for Climate Action

By AKILAH SANDERS-REED

Incredulity. Awe. Confusion. Disgust. Excitement. I’ve gotten a lot of reactions when I tell people “I sued Governor Martinez and the State of New Mexico.” But recently, I had the pleasure of getting the most rewarding reaction: Success.

On May 4, 2011, at the age of 16, I filed a lawsuit claiming that the atmosphere is part of the public trust, and therefore the responsibility of the state to protect for future generations. Anthropogenic climate change has become a polarized stalemate issue, revolving around semi-related economic figures and political agendas. But the climate crisis isn’t about economics, or politics, or convenience – it’s about my generation’s right to a future.

At a hearing on June 29, Judge Singleton made the monumental decision to let my case continue, denying the State’s motion to dismiss it. The case is now proceeding to address the issue of whether the state agency charged with protecting the atmosphere has met its public trust obligation, making this lawsuit a landmark in atmospheric trust litigation.

Twenty-six percent of the U.S. is too young to vote, and must therefore trust the government to act in our best interest, but they have betrayed that trust, squandering away the stability of our planet in favor of short-term profit. My complaint requests that the court order Governor Martinez and the State of New Mexico to implement a climate recovery plan based on “the best available science.”

Time is running out. New Mexico is especially vulnerable as a frontline community, where we are already seeing the forerunners of the catastrophic consequences of climate change. Our headlines scream about the largest mega-fires in our state’s history and a prolonged drought that threatens local agriculture, but it falls on deaf ears: New Mexico has repealed both our carbon cap and the green building codes we were formerly so proud of, and our governor continues to dispute the science that is tearing our state apart. I don’t have the option of “waiting until I’m older” to take action. My generation will not be daunted or intimidated by money and power; the science won’t negotiate, and neither will we.

I’m often asked: what do I hope to achieve? I hope to win. I want to show the government and the people of New Mexico that one voice of the population in gravest danger has the power to change the course of the climate crisis, and the course of history. I want to protect my future, and the future of the youth of New Mexico and of the world, some of whom haven’t even contributed to the climate crisis, but will suffer nonetheless. Even if we don’t win, we will have raised an important question to our government and the media: does my future matter to those in power?

No amount of profit will buy back my future; but I believe the youngest generation has the moral authority to protect our world. Judge Singleton’s decision was a victory for my generation. When I tell people, “I sued Governor Martinez and the State of New Mexico,” I say it not with incredulity or apprehension, but with determination.

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One comment

  1. I sent the following out to various lists:

    Dear Water Planners,
    This young person’s spunk and raw intelligence are very impressive. She sure knows how to shame those that deserve it. Although the way things are going, which she so lucidly points out, is great cause for abject pessimism, we can all take courage from her example. I guess all us old farts really are over the hill and the only true heroes out there are going to have to come from her generation. We all should be most proud of her.
    Regards. Lynn

    “There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to
    conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the
    introduction of a new order of things, because the innovator has for
    enemies all those who have done well under the old condition, and
    lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.
    – Machiavelli, 1513

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