Ira Reinhart-Smith is 15 years old, which means he’ll be in his mid 20s when the world is projected to pass a critical point of no return in the fight against climate change.
If Canada and the rest of the world don’t succeed in nearly halving greenhouse gas emissions by then, Reinhart-Smith will live the rest of his life knowing “catastrophic” changes to the world around him are on the way.
That’s why he joined 14 other teenagers in suing the Canadian government for violating their right to life, liberty, and security of the person, by so far failing to act. “We’re doing what we have to do, because if we don’t, all future generations will be at risk,” he said.
The teens named in the lawsuit filed Friday morning come from eight different provinces and one northern territory. Supported by the David Suzuki Foundation and Our Children’s Trust, the lawsuit claims the kids are already feeling the harms of a warming climate.
In rural Nova Scotia, where Reinhart-Smith lives with his family, hurricanes have already become statistically stronger and more frequent. This year his community braced for the tail end of Hurricane Dorian, which killed at least 60 people and left hundreds missing in the Bahamas in September. The storm has been called the worst natural disaster in the country’s history.
As Dorian approached Atlantic Canada, it was downgraded from category 5 to category 1, but the storm still prompted evacuations, caused blackouts, and ravaged homes on the coastline, racking up $100 million in damages in Canada alone.
“We lost power for five days,” Reinhart-Smith recalled. He says the storm tore trees out of the ground and scooped out some of the land by his grandmother’s home.
The lawsuit is not asking for money or other damages, but calls for Canada to stop discriminating against kids and implement a plan that reduces emissions. According to the latest available data, Canada’s emissions have been rising, not falling, in recent years.
The lawsuit was filed ahead of a Vancouver climate rally where climate activist Greta Thunberg is expected to attend. In September, the Swedish teen visited Montreal where half a million people including prime minister Justin Trudeau marched in a call for more action.
Trudeau was reelected earlier this week after making major climate-related promises on the campaign trail. The prime minister committed to net zero emissions by 2050, promised to enact legally binding milestones, pledged to plant two billion trees over the next 10 years, and said he would pass legislation on transition job training and disaster insurance. But he also said he was committed to building the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion from Alberta to British Columbia’s coast.
Reinhart-Smith says he attended his first Fridays for Future rally near the end of 2018. “They talked about a lot of things I had never heard of before,” he said. “So then I talked to the organizers, and I made myself more informed, and now I’m organizing Fridays for Future rallies near where I live.”
Reinhart-Smith says he’s done his own research on some of the other “catastrophic” changes that come with rising temperatures. “It almost sounds like an apocalypse movie,” he said. “Forest fires, flooding—everything on a scale we’ve never seen before.”
The legal case follows in the footsteps of a similar case against the United States government, launched in 2015. Also led by Our Children’s Trust, the case argues that the United States has known about climate change for decades, and should have taken responsible action sooner. The case has yet to go to trial.
“The Trump administration has gone to extraordinary lengths to get our case dismissed and delay trial,” Our Children’s Trust attorney Andrea Rodgers said. “Our goal is to get back to trial so we can present all of the youth’s stories and the tremendous amount of evidence we have gathered that shows the federal government has known of the danger of burning fossil fuels for energy for decades and in spite of that knowledge have perpetuated a U.S. energy system that is dominated by the use of fossil fuels.”
“Both cases seek a court order directing the federal government to prepare and implement a climate recovery plan that reduces Canada’s GHG emissions in line with what scientists say are necessary,” Rodgers said.
Though the teens have been called a source of hope and inspiration, Reinhart-Smith says he doesn’t see it that way.
“We shouldn’t be doing this, but we have to, because if we don’t then our future might be in shambles,” he said. “Like Greta says, you can come for hope after, we want action first.”
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