A 2016 graduate of Eastside High School and seven others between the ages 10 and 20 are suing the state of Florida for promoting the use of fossil fuels that lead to climate change.
On Monday, Oscar Psychas and others filed a lawsuit paid for by Oregon-based Our Children’s Fund, a nonprofit that helps youth take legal action to ensure a stable climate. The 20-year-old Eastside alumnus said he experienced the effects of climate change while hiking 300 miles from Gainesville to Tallahassee in unusual Florida heat last February.
“This isn’t just a publicity stunt,” Psychas, a Middlebury College freshman, said. “We have a really strong case and think we can win.”
The lawsuit said state government officials are contributing to climate change by encouraging the use of fossil fuels, while suppressing the use of renewable resources, Psychas said.
He said state officials, particularly Gov. Rick Scott, don’t acknowledge climate change, which leads to a lack of policies to protect the environment. He said the state uses fossil fuels when solar power would make more sense because of how much sunshine the state gets due to its flat geography.
“Florida has a choice to either stick to the old way of fossil fuels and be left behind,” he said. “Or we can get excited about this new model of switching to renewable energy.”
Guy Burns, the lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the state has to protect the environment. He said the case is winnable because the state has increased greenhouse gas emissions, which have caused climate change and natural disasters. He said he thinks the trial will make it clear that the state has failed in its obligations.
Burns said young people are the perfect people to file a lawsuit because they will be affected for the rest of their lives.
“There’s nobody that has greater vested interest in the case,” he said.
When contacted, the state emailed a statement about the lawsuit. The governor’s office declined to comment further.
“The Governor signed one of the largest environmental protection budgets in Florida’s history last month – investing $4 billion into Florida’s environment,” Gov. Scott spokesperson McKinley Lewis wrote in an email. “The governor is focused on real solutions to protect our environment – not political theater or a lawsuit orchestrated by a group based in Eugene, Oregon.”
Psychas said as an environmental studies student, his main reason for joining is because the beauty of Florida is in danger.
“It’s just such a profound injustice that young people are being left a world, and a Florida, that will be broken,” he said.