Trusting The Puzzle Pieces As They Fall Into Place

by Gordon Levitt, Law Clerk at Our Children's Trust

“Rebels and visionaries are rarely celebrated in their own time, but it is always their breakthroughs in consciousness that tomorrow’s reality will be built upon. Only by defying society’s expectations can you find the true uncertainty that defines adventure.”
--Andreas Fransson

For the past six months I’ve opened up my computer to that quote from ski mountaineer Andreas Fransson. In a terrific series of short videos, Andreas details why he is drawn to attempt some of the most challenging and adventurous ski descents in history, imparting his observations in a philosophical, yet accessible manner. While watching these videos I was captivated by his mental journey to arrive at a point of clarity of thought and purpose. At the time, I hoped that I would one day reach a similar point of mental clarity.

In the past six months, the puzzle pieces have started to fall into place, orienting me to the challenges that lie ahead. I now fully trust in the path I am taking to protect the health of our environment for current and future generations. This newfound perspective is in large part due to an amazing and rejuvenating summer experience as a law clerk for Our Children's Trust in Eugene, Oregon.

Our Children’s Trust represents youth plaintiffs around the U.S. in climate change litigation seeking government action to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions on behalf of today’s youth and future generations. These actions are a part of the global TRUST campaign to empower youth and adults to stand up for climate action that is consistent with scientific prescriptions for a sustainable and livable future.

Supporting youth pressuring our government to accept legal responsibility to decrease carbon emissions is inspiring. They seem to know better than our leaders that change must happen now if we are to avoid irreparable damage to our atmosphere and the future of their generation and generations to come.

Of course, there will be challenges in this endeavor, not the least of which is the impact of personal choices, particularly surrounding transportation and travel. For example, at the end of May I headed off on a much anticipated trip to attend a good friend’s wedding. Despite my passion for climate issues and my knowledge that the trip had a high carbon cost, I could not convince myself not to go. It was a fantastic trip, but the signs of climate change in Colorado were abundantly clear. The wedding took place near the town of Grand Lake – outside Rocky Mountain National Park – where mountain pine beetles have inflicted tremendous damage on the forests. Talking with a local, I discovered that the beetle kill had mostly happened in the last 20 years and that rising temperatures were exacerbating the situation because beetles were expanding their range to higher elevations.

After what I had seen on my vacation, I arrived back in Eugene more dedicated to climate issues than ever before. Over the rest of the summer my primary focus was on appellate work in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and the development of a youth climate change campaign for Eugene, Oregon. My work included editing appellate briefs, researching federal constitutional claims, editing petitions for rulemaking in several states, writing and editing press releases, drafting a local ordinance, organizing a youth campaign to support the ordinance, engaging in moot courts, representing the organization at local festivals and meetings, and conducting outreach to potential supporters.

My summer work provided excellent preparation for practicing law in general and public interest environmental law in particular. I had the opportunity to solidify my legal and non-legal research and writing skills while working on challenging, and in some cases unprecedented, arguments at the local, state, national, and international level. This research exposed me to laws in ten different states and several countries, and gave me the opportunity to engage with a diverse array of scholarship on climate science, environmental economics, and other topics related to climate change.

While I can hardly claim to be a visionary and I am not a rebel, I do believe that the work I have helped with at Our Children’s Trust challenges societal expectations of governmental responsibility and how youth can stand up for a better future. Although these challenges are surrounded by uncertainty, I will trust that I am on a true adventure to put the rest of the puzzle together....