Green do gooders or propagandists? Climate lawsuits showcasing young people draw scrutiny

Dr. Matthew Wielicki said it’s a common practice in propaganda to use children to present political ideologies as innocent and unassailable.

Published: December 25, 2023 11:11pm

Eighteen young people in California are suing the Environmental Protection Agency and its head, alleging the government is violating their constitutional rights to a healthy life by allowing dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The young Californians’ lawsuit, Genesis B. v. Environmental Protection Agency, is being coordinated and advanced by Our Children’s Trust, an anti-fossil fuel nonprofit that is riding a wave of success after winning a similar lawsuit this summer against the state of Montana. That case is being appealed.

While the group receives a great deal of favorable press, others say it’s using children to advance a political agenda, and by using the courts, it’s setting energy policies without any involvement of the elected representatives of the people those policies impact.

Dr. Matthew Wielicki, former assistant professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Alabama and author of “Irrational Fear,” told Just The News that it’s a common practice in propaganda to use children to present political ideologies as innocent and unassailable.

Wielicki was born in Poland under communist rule, and his family immigrated to America to escape it. He said communist regimes and the Nazi Germany also had youth movements to launder their ideologies.

“It’s disgusting. We seem to have historic amnesia,” Wielicki said.

Hayden Ludwig, director of policy research for Restoration of America, told Just The News that Our Children’s Trust’s actions are reflective of a tendency on the left to rely more on emotion than facts, and using children to advance the climate agenda began with Swedish climate celebrity Great Thunberg.

“It's part and parcel of the left’s strategy to try and manipulate public opinion through these emotional pleas. It’s ‘trust the science’ or ‘look at the poor, suffering kids.’ I think it’s because they don’t actually want you to debate the facts in a public way,” Ludwig said.

Our Children’s Trust did not respond to requests for comment, but Julia Olson, executive director and chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, told E&E News that the EPA is charged with keeping the air clean and controlling pollution to “protect the health of every child… in the nation.”

However, just about every form of air pollution has declined in the U.S. since the 1990s, including carbon dioxide emissions, which peaked out in 2005.

In an E&E News feature, the young activists that Our Children's Trust is leading into court explain they suffer anxiety and hardships as a result of climate change. Among the main concerns is wildfires.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a consortium of the world’s leading climate scientists, does not detect or attribute fire occurrence or area burned to human-caused climate change.

Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., professor of environmental studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, explained in an article on “The Honest Broker,” that the IPCC doesn’t see a strong “signal” — meaning a trend occurring to a degree beyond what’s expected in natural variability — until 2100.

That signal only emerges under the RCP8.5 scenario, which projects carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere far beyond what is considered plausible today.

Wielicki said that young people today are being given a distorted picture of the impacts of climate change, and they’re not being presented with other points of view. This distorted picture, he said, is harmful to their mental health.

During his time as an assistant professor of geological science, Wielicki became troubled by the young people in his classes feeling despondent and anxious largely over these exaggerated views of the impact of climate change.

“I really started to see the mental health toll that all of this constant catastrophizing was taking,” he said.

Wielicki said it’s making it hard for young people in the developed world to appreciate just how good they have it. Instead, they’re treating “first-world problems” as catastrophes.

”There's 2.1 billion people on this planet that don't have access to clean drinking water. And kids in the Western world are suing governments because their hiking trails were gone for a year or their snowboard season was cut short by two weeks. It's complete lunacy,” Wielicki said.

Critics of Our Children’s Trust also worry what will happen if these lawsuits are successful.
It’s not just Our Children’s Trust trying to eliminate the use of fossil fuels through the U.S. court system.

Across the country are dozens of these lawsuits, many of which are seeking monetary damages from oil companies.

Wayne Winegarden, senior fellow in business and economics at the Pacific Research Institute, told Just The News the costs of litigating the cases and any settlements that come from them will ultimately be passed down to the consumers, and that will function as a tax.

In cases like those by Our Children’s Trust, which are against government agencies and not seeking monetary compensation, will impose energy policies, Wingarden said, through an “anti-democratic” process.

”They’re trying to use judges as imperial administrators, and it’s troubling for many different reasons,” he said.

Winegarden authored a policy brief called “Counterproductive,” which argues that setting the nation’s energy policies through the judicial system will undermine the innovation that occurs when solutions to environmental problem grow organically and produce sustainable methods to address climate change.

“Government is better at doing basic research. It’s not good at commercialization. You see that in the drug markets and all kinds of technologies,” Winegarden said. “We need a vibrant private sector to come up with alternatives.”

Litigation, on the other hand, will deprive the country of seeking a solution from a diverse range of voices. Instead, activists who hate fossil fuels will decide what solutions will be allowed, which won’t necessarily be those that produce the best results.

He also said these lawsuits pretend that the oil and gas industry produces their products just to do harm. It ignores the fact that they’re consumed willingly by people who choose to do so.

Even if the costs of alleged damages are accurate, which Winegarden said is doubtful due to all the uncertainty in climate science, they’re still not accurately calculating the overall impact of fossil fuels.

“They’re not taking into account any measure of the benefits. For them to say there’s absolutely no benefit from fossil fuel, it’s completely ridiculous,” he said.

Legal expert Jonathan Adler raises a lot of doubts about the plaintiffs’ prospects in court on The Volokh Conspiracy.

Genesis asks the courts to go well beyond existing law, Adler explained. They ask the courts to recognize children as a protected class for the purposes of equal protection, and that the EPA’s failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions more aggressively violates their “fundamental right to a life sustaining climate system.”

“To say these are audacious claims is an understatement,” Adler wrote.

Unlock unlimited access

  • No Ads Within Stories
  • No Autoplay Videos
  • VIP access to exclusive Just the News newsmaker events hosted by John Solomon and his team.
  • Support the investigative reporting and honest news presentation you've come to enjoy from Just the News.
  • Just the News Spotlight

    Support Just the News