Lawyers for a group of young Alaskans suing the state over climate change argued in court Monday that Alaska must reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses to prevent villages from washing away and other harmful effects.
"The dangers facing these communities are literally a matter of life and death," said Andrew Welle, an attorney for Our Children's Trust, a nonprofit legal organization that organized the lawsuit and similar ones nationwide.
On Monday, Superior Court Judge Gregory Miller heard oral arguments in the case filed by 16 Alaska youth in October.
Seth Beausang, an assistant attorney general for Alaska, argued that the creation of a climate policy to reduce emissions is a matter for the governor and Legislature to decide, not the court.
He said only a small number of the world's greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to Alaska.
"Alaska is not destroying the environment. Alaska is not causing climate change," he said.
The lawsuit names as defendants Gov. Bill Walker, Larry Hartig, commissioner for Department of Environmental Conservation, and several state agencies. It says Alaska permitting agencies have systematically authorized development that results in dangerous levels of greenhouse-gas emissions, while rejecting plans to address climate change.
Esau Sinnok, a college student from Shishmaref named in the case, Sinnok v. State of Alaska, sat by attorneys Monday. Several other teens and children named as plaintiffs in the suit also attended, after traveling from communities across Alaska.
Sinnok said about 30 Alaska villages are imminently threatened from flooding and erosion caused by climate change. Shishmaref will vanish unless the effects of climate change can be reversed, he said.
"With the state contributing to climate change it has the duty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and respect our human rights to live in a healthy, safe and sustainable environment," said Sinnok, 20, speaking with a reporter after the hearing.
Miller said he'd review the case and issue a decision later.