Civic Engagement, Government, and Climate Change

image from linked pdf

This blog post is meant to accompany the recent Current Context “Youth v. Government”

In addition to seeking to establish that the federal government is liable for the climate change effects experienced by the plaintiffs’, plaintiffs in the Juliana v. United States case also seek to establish that the federal government is responsible for establishing a livable climate.

“Youth v. Government” examines a number of historical and present-day actions related to the management of natural resources taken by the three branches of the government. Students can analyze these examples, as well as research additional examples, to identify the influence and effectiveness of different government branches when it comes to environmental protection/natural resource management.


  • Clean Air Act
  • Clean Water Act


  • 1965 President’s Science Advisory Committee Report
  • 2015 Paris Climate Agreement (President Obama)
  • President Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement


  • Juliana v. United States
  • 2019 U.S. Supreme Court decision to allow local governments to sue energy companies


Classroom discussion questions:

  • How can citizens encourage or discourage federal environmental regulation?
  • What are some similarities and differences between citizen engagement during the 1970 Earth Day and today’s Juliana v. United States legal case?
  • What is the significance of international actions in determining the United States’ decisions regarding environmental regulation?
  • Do the United States and other industrialized nations have a special responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions because of their manufacturing and transportation emissions over the past 150 years?
  • How do we make a global shift away from fossil fuels in a way that is fair to developing nations that are working to build their economies at the same time as global leaders are saying not to use the same fossil fuels that enabled countries like the United States and the Netherlands to create their strong economies?


As students consider what it will mean to shift away from fossil fuels (including oil, natural gas, and coal), it can help to see data that reflects different regions’ reliance on different fuel types. The following graphs come from a world energy report.

It would be helpful to track down population numbers for these different regions, but even without, students can gain insight into the regions of the world that consume the most and least amounts of energy, and the types of fuels each region relies upon. Potential discussion questions related to this data include:

  • What region of the world consumes the most amount of fuel? What economic and demographic reasons might help explain why?
  • What region of the world consumes the least amount of fuel? What economic and demographic reasons might help explain why?
  • What geographic reasons may help explain reliance upon certain fuels in certain regions?


Ideally, students come away from time spent with this resource feeling more aware of possible avenues for effecting the changes that they want to see.