Dickinson College student part of landmark climate change lawsuit


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    In between her studies, Dickinson College sophomore Sophie Kivlehan, has a hand in a landmark lawsuit against the federal government. The subject: climate change.

    It was watching a monarch butterfly hatch that first got Kivlehan asking questions about science.

    "Learning about how they have this innate sense to fly south to Mexico," recalled Kivlehan. "I thought that was so cool."

    Also pretty cool, she learned the basics of science from, Dr. James Hansen, a former NASA Climatologist and the man she calls grandpa.

    As a young teen, she started learning about climate change.

    "The magnitude of the danger of it is almost incomprehensible. I’ve always known that. But, realizing other people don't know it. That's crazy to me," she said.

    So when she got word in 2015 that a group of kids were filing a lawsuit against the federal government, alleging it knowingly failed to protect them from climate change, she jumped on board.

    "We say that young people are being actively discriminated against by the federal government’s actions by promoting the emissions of dangerously high levels of fossil fuels despite this concrete knowledge that they've had for decades," said Kivlehan.

    There are 20 other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Juliana v. United States. The youngest, is in sixth grade.

    Kivlehan said the evidence they have is strong. Federal public trust protection is something the founding fathers wrote about.

    "They wrote a lot in the declaration of independence about the right of young people, of our posterity, they said, to have the land the same way that we receive it," she explained.

    The suit says the burning of fossil fuels has impacted our nation's air, water, forests, and coastlines. Kivlehan said we can see its impact in Central Pennsylvania when it comes to agriculture.

    "The warmer air, due to global warming holds more moisture more easily, that's why we see more frequent storms," said Kivlehan.

    She further explained how the dramatic change in temperatures during the Winter, that make it feel like Spring, also a part of climate change, tricks trees into thinking it's time to bloom.

    She said on her family's Allentown farm some trees budded, then froze, hurting the tree when it actually needed to grow.

    While being a part of the lawsuit means adding a few extra hours a week to her biochemistry and molecular biology courses, Kivlehan says the fight is worth it.

    "80 percent of the progress out of the lawsuit is people hearing about it and learning about it, and deciding to cover it," she explained.

    The government has tried several times over the course of the past two years to dismiss the lawsuit.

    The Trump administration alone has lost five appeals to stop it, two in front of the U.S Supreme Court.

    It's a case that's very much alive and could have an enormous impact on our nation's future.

    CBS' 60 minutes did a special on the case. To learn more click here.

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