Levi Draheim marched in Washington, D.C., this past April to urge action on climate change.

Robin Loznak via ZUMA Wire

Climate Fighter

This 10-year-old is taking the United States government to court over the environment

Levi Draheim lives five minutes from the ocean. His town, Satellite Beach, is on an island off the east coast of Florida. Being close to nature is great for the 10-year-old, who loves “basically anything outdoors,” he says.

But Levi worries about the future of Satellite Beach. Climate change—a gradual change in Earth’s average temperature and weather patterns—is causing sea levels to rise around the world. Some beaches near Levi’s home have already washed away. “I’m scared because my home might be gone someday,” he says.

Levi is one of 21 young people who are working with lawyers to sue the U.S. government over climate change. They want lawmakers to do more to stop the pollution that contributes to climate change and prevent its harmful effects. The trial is scheduled to start in 2018.

Levi Draheim lives five minutes from the ocean. His home is a town called Satellite Beach. It’s on an island off the east coast of Florida. Being close to nature is great for the 10-year-old. He loves “basically anything outdoors,” he says.

But Levi worries about Satellite Beach’s future. That’s because of climate change. It’s slowly changing Earth’s average temperature. It’s also affecting weather patterns. That’s causing sea levels to rise. It’s happening around the world. It’s even happening to beaches near Levi’s home. Some have already washed away. “I’m scared because my home might be gone someday,” he says.

Levi is one of 21 young people working with lawyers. They’re suing the U.S. government over climate change. They want lawmakers to work to stop pollution adding to climate change. They also want the government to help stop climate change’s harmful effects. The trial is scheduled to start in 2018.

Warming World

Earth’s climate changes naturally over hundreds and thousands of years. But for the past several decades, the planet has been warming at a faster rate than ever before. The main culprits are greenhouse gases, says Natalie Mahowald. She’s a climate scientist at Cornell University in New York. 

Most greenhouse gases are released when people burn fuels such as coal and gasoline. The gases float up into Earth’s atmosphere, or protective outer layer. They trap heat in the atmosphere, raising Earth’s average temperature (see The Greenhouse Effect).

Earth’s climate changes naturally. This happens over hundreds and thousands of years. But the planet has been warming faster than ever. It’s been going on for the past several decades. The main reason is greenhouse gases, says Natalie Mahowald. She’s a climate scientist. She works at Cornell University. It’s in New York.

People release greenhouse gases when they burn fuels. These fuels include coal and gasoline. The gases float up into Earth’s atmosphere. It’s a layer of gases surrounding the planet. Greenhouse gases trap heat. That warms Earth (see The Greenhouse Effect).

As global temperatures rise, ice melts at Earth’s poles. The meltwater pours into the ocean. Water also expands as it warms. Both of these factors cause sea levels to rise, explains Mahowald. As a result, low-lying areas like Levi’s home could eventually be completely underwater.

Rising sea levels could force about 13 million Americans out of coastal areas by 2100, scientists say. Those areas include cities like New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York City. Many parts of the world may experience an increase in severe storms, heat waves, and droughts as the planet warms. 

Ice melts at Earth’s poles as temperatures rise. The meltwater pours into the ocean. Water also expands as it warms. Both of these things cause sea levels to rise, says Mahowald. Low-lying areas could end up underwater as a result. Levi’s home could be one of them. 

Rising sea levels could force many people to move out of coastal areas. That includes about 13 million Americans by 2100, scientists say. These areas include cities like New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York City. Worse weather could be a problem as the planet warms too. There might be stronger storms. There might be more heat waves and droughts. 

Going to Court

Levi joined the climate lawsuit back in 2015. The youths and their lawyers argue that the government has allowed too much greenhouse gas pollution. They claim that the U.S. has failed to protect its citizens from climate change. If the lawsuit is successful, the government could be forced to regulate pollution to levels that scientists believe would prevent disaster.

Individuals can reduce greenhouse gas pollution by making personal choices, such as driving cars that use less gas. But lawmakers can change things on a much larger scale, the lawsuit argues. They can pass stricter rules to control pollution from cars, factories, and power plants.

As Levi waits for the trial, he’s trying to educate people about climate change. He gives speeches and attends marches to encourage others to take action. “It’s really important to talk about climate change and learn about it,” he says.

Levi joined the climate lawsuit back in 2015. It states that the government has allowed too much greenhouse gas pollution. The group claims the U.S. isn’t keeping its people safe from climate change. What happens if the lawsuit is a success? The government could be forced to better control pollution. Pollution would need to be at levels scientists believe would stop a disaster.

Everyone can lower greenhouse gases. It depends on the personal choices. One way is to drive cars that use less gas. But lawmakers can change things on a larger scale. That’s what the lawsuit argues. Lawmakers can pass tougher rules. They could reduce pollution from cars, factories, and power plants.

Levi is waiting for the trial. Right now, he’s trying to teach people about climate change. He gives speeches. He also attends marches to get others to take action. “It’s really important to talk about climate change and learn about it,” he says.

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