A group of about 15 of Malibu’s youth has decided it isn’t fair that their generation is getting the short end of the stick when it comes to climate destabilization. The devastating Woolsey Fire, a climate change disaster that will forever change the city of Malibu, is the perfect example of the extreme weather-driven events like fires, floods, droughts, sea-level rise and hurricanes that will continually become more extreme around the world without drastic cuts in fossil fuel usage.
Last Saturday, Malibu student climate activists announced the formation of Malibu Green Wave—a new initiative that arose from their Woolsey Fire experience and is associated with the nonprofit Malibu Foundation. They held a press conference in the Malibu Seafood parking lot, standing in front of native trees that had been blackened and killed by the Woolsey Fire. The group’s overall message is: “We have the right to a future free from climate catastrophe.”
The press conference, one of about 100 coordinated press conferences on the same day across the country, was deliberately scheduled to take place the weekend before an appellate court hearing in the landmark lawsuit Juliana v. United States on June 4—the first lawsuit to claim a constitutional right to a stable climate.
While previous similar lawsuits were dismissed by U.S. courts, Juliana v. United States gained attention in 2016 when U.S. District Court of Oregon Judge Ann Aiken upheld the idea that access to a clean environment was a fundamental right and allowed the case to proceed. The case has been the subject of a “60 Minutes” report.
The lawsuit is filed on behalf of 21 young people from 10 different states who have suffered the effects of climate crisis in their communities. It alleges the U.S. government has known about climate change for more than 50 years but failed to protect them. If the plaintiffs win, it could mean massive changes in the use of fossil fuels. Proponents said this would be as much of a landmark case as Brown v. Board of Education or Roe v. Wade.
Collette Aldrich, one of Malibu’s youth leaders and organizers on the climate issue and a graduating senior from Malibu High School, told the crowd, “Woolsey swept through the Santa Monica Mountains after years of drought, leaving hundreds of victims of climate disaster displaced, including myself. The U.S. has done little to decrease carbon dioxide emissions, and there is little government commitment to fight the problem. We are the posterity that the constitution protects. The government’s fossil fuel policies will push us over the tipping point and into disaster.”
Another local student, Anderson Newman, worried that the rare Mediterranean ecosystem of the Santa Monica Mountains would simply become desert if frequent wildfires continue.
“Mediterranean ecosystems make up only two percent of the world’s ecosystems,” he stated, naming some of his favorite local native plants—manzanitas, ceanothus, bay leaf, black sage and purple sage.
“It’s one of the most threatened plant communities on earth,” he noted, saying wildfires that used to occur every 70 years are now occurring about every 20 years, threatening some native plants that require 20 years to produce seedlings.
Georgia Kennedy-Bailey, the other main youth leader and organizer of the new Malibu Green Wave group and a high school sophomore, explained to the audience that the organization would launch its local initiatives beginning this fall.
“This will be a student program that gives students the chance to help their community after the Woolsey Fire,” she said. “Young people can create meaningful change and put their voices to use to make change locally with tree planting, house building and other community projects.
“Our city was tragically burned this year as a direct result of climate change, and there have been other fires, floods and disasters all around the planet,” she continued. “Our president is doing nothing about it and in fact is going backwards—denying climate change even exists; which will lead to the destruction of our planet. We only have 10 years before creating an irreversible effect. We deserve to live a life free of climate catastrophe.”
The Malibu Foundation is sponsoring the new “Green Wave” youth group. Rory Kennedy, a board member of the foundation, said in an interview that addressing climate crisis is part of their mission. She met teen activist Katie Eder at a dinner hosted by actor Sean Penn, and was amazed by her youth initiatives around the country. “We’re trying to connect what happened in Malibu with climate change,” Kennedy said. “It seems like a strategic path forward to change history. It’s exciting.”