Meet the 16yo suing the US Government over climate change
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez was about eight years old when the fracking boom came to his home state of Colorado.
He had grown up outdoors, and his favourite game was hunting frogs and snakes with his dad.
“I didn’t really go to school, I just spent a bunch of time in nature,” he told Hack.
“As soon as I began to educate myself about climate change, I saw that the world I was in love with was falling apart.”
Eight years later, Colorado has more than 50,000 fracking wells, and 16-year-old Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced shooTEZcat) is a superstar activist, currently visiting Australia.
He has addressed the United Nations, and is one of a group of young people suing the US Government over lack of action on climate change.
An application to dismiss the case was denied last year, and the lawyers now plan to take it to the federal court in the coming months.
“We do not have time to waste, we do not have time to push this back,” he said.
“We’ve been to court twice now.
The first two times the fossil fuel companies and the US Government said we don’t have a right to file this lawsuit.
“But [the court] denied the motion to dismiss.
The youngest of the plaintiffs is eight years old.
The case rests on the legal argument that climate change is so catastrophic to their future, that it threatens their fundamental constitutional right to life and liberty.
A ruling in their favour could be a landmark decision.
It also comes as US President Donald Trump is looking to roll back US policy on reducing greenhouse emissions, including promoting the coal industry and quitting the Paris Climate Agreement signed only last year.
“Donald Trump threatens a lot of the action that has been taken over the last four to eight years. But I really don’t believe he is going to go through with all these things.
I hope that everything that Trump stands for is going to push people to fight harder than ever to resist.”
‘Transition to solar, wind, hydro’
Xiuhtezcatl was raised as Indigenous Meshika, of the Aztec people of Mexico City.
By age 12, he had organized more than 35 rallies and protests.
At 13, he and his younger brother, Itzcuauhtli, were invited to talk about fracking at a middle school in Colorado.
They performed the song ‘What the Frack’ and spoke about methane leaking from wells and poisoning groundwater.
Their appearance sparked a counter protest by oil and gas industry activists, who called the Martinez home with threats.
It did not stop Xiuhtezcatl.
He is now youth director of Earth Guardians, a worldwide organisation that rallies together young activists and musicians in the fight against climate change.
In 2013, President Obama gave him a national community service award.
In 2015, in a borrowed suit, he addressed the UN on environmental policy and the future of his generation.
His brother, Itzcuauhtli, has followed in his foot steps.
In 2014, aged 11, Itzcuauhtli took a vow of silence to inspire others to speak up about climate change.
For 45 days he didn’t speak – communicating in sign and via a portable whiteboard.
“Young people have a huge responsibility to be a part of creating solutions. If we look at just the problems it’s going to disempower people and make them hopeless,” Xiuhtezcatl said.
“A reason I do what I do is to empower young leaders.
I don’t want to be the only one.”
One solution that Xiuhtezcatl offers is redirecting subsidies for fossil fuel companies into renewables like solar, wind and hydro.
He says the right combination of existing renewables technology could easily produce enough stable baseload power.
He’s sure that shale gas fracking is not a solution to reducing emissions, partly because the wells leak too much methane – a greenhouse gas that is many times more potent than carbon dioxide.
“Shale gas is actually more harmful to the climate,” he said.
“We’re producing energy the same way as we were 50 years ago, and the entire world is using more and more energy.
“We are going to burn out the earth’s resources and cause irreversible damage if we don’t transition.”
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