Sound Stories. Sound Voices.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
You are on the KUOW archive site. Click here to go to our current site.
Seattle leaders have been making a big promise for more than 15 years: that our city will lead the nation in fighting climate change. And yet, Seattle is polluting as much as it was 25 years ago. What went wrong? How can we do better? Explore the stories in our new series, The Burning Question, below. our reporting team: David Hyde, Amy Radil, John Ryan. Editor: Gil Aegerter.

13 kids sue Washington state for life, liberty and a livable climate

Thirteen kids are suing the state of Washington and its governor to protect their generation from climate change.

The plaintiffs range in age from 7 to 17.

Their suit, filed Friday in King County Superior Court, says Gov. Jay Inslee and state agencies are violating the constitutional rights of a generation by continuing to let dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the sky.

"They are not taking nearly enough action to fight climate change, which my generation is going to suffer from," 16-year-old plaintiff Jamie Margolin of Seattle said.

The high-school sophomore at Seattle's Holy Names Academy also founded the group Zero Hour, which is organizing a youth climate march this summer in Washington, D.C.

Margolin said her activism isn't something her parents or anyone else put her up to.

"If anything, I'm the one dragging them to things," she said. "They’re supportive, so I don't want to make it sound like they don't do anything, but none of this is my parents. It’s really all my idea. It just feels urgent to me."

Our Children's Trust, the nonprofit group behind the lawsuit, has filed similar suits with underaged plaintiffs in Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, North Carolina and Oregon.

[asset-images[{"caption": "An excerpt of Aji P. v. State of Washington, filed Friday by Our Children's Trust in King County Superior Court", "fid": "142801", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201802/ClimateKidsSuitScreenGrab.JPG", "attribution": ""}]]The latest lawsuit details a litany of ways an altered climate is expected to disrupt life in Washington: from thousands of flooded homes, roads and sewage-treatment plants to millions of acres of forest fires.

The group says its aim is to force all governments to take climate as seriously as scientists do. The group is pushing deep and rapid emissions cuts, based on the full “decarbonization” scientists say is necessary to avoid dangerous degrees of climate change.

Inslee's office would not comment on the pending lawsuit.

"I will say that the governor has spent a substantial portion of his life and career on fighting climate change and increases in carbon emissions," Inslee spokesperson Tara Lee said in an email. "There are several bills currently before the legislature that would address these important issues.”

“There’s no sufficient, science-based legislation being passed on climate change at all," Margolin said.

Inslee often calls climate change an "existential threat to our state."

Margolin said Inslee is better at talking about that threat than fighting it.

"We had to fight him so hard to get him to deny that oil terminal, which should’ve been a really easy decision," Margolin said, referring to what would have been the nation’s largest oil-by-rail terminal, in Vancouver. "Any new fossil fuel at this point is a death sentence to our planet," she said.

Inslee rejected the proposed oil terminal in January after a contentious, four-year process.

A bill passed by the Washington House of Representatives last week would cut statewide emissions 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

The city of Seattle aims to eliminate its emissions by 2050, though it is not on track to do so.

Current state law only commits Washington to cutting its emissions in half by 2050.

The climate kids aim higher: their lawsuit seeks a 96 percent statewide cut by then.

They say that's what's necessary to stabilize the climate before it's too late.

John Ryan loves getting tips and documents. He can be reached at or on the encrypted Signalor WhatsApp apps at 1-401-405-1206 (whistleblowers, never do so from a work or government device, account or location). For greatest security, use KUOW's SecureDrop portal. Snail mail is also a safe way to reach him confidentially: KUOW, 4518 University Way NE #310, Seattle, WA 98105. Don't put your return address on the outside.

Year started with KUOW: 2009