Xiuhtezcatl Martinez was sick of witnessing how the federal government manages our environment. More than that, he was sick of not having a say on the matter.
“Branches of government and the entities that are meant to protect people’s voices are no longer doing their job,” he explains.
Xiuhtezcatl is only 16. This means he’s too young to elect leaders that will help shape our nation’s environmental policies, though he will most certainly have to live with the consequences of their decisions. This didn’t sit well with the bold teen, so he decided to snap into action.
Working as the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, a non-profit started by his mother in 1992, Xiuhtezcatl and a coalition of youth have partnered with climate scientist James Hansen to sue the federal government for a violation of constitutional rights. Under the banner of the 501c-3 charity Our Children’s Trust, a group of six teen plaintiffs are bringing the fight to the federal government.
“We’re working to protect the earth, the air, the water, or atmosphere,” Xiuhtezcatl says. “And, I think, to give voice to a generation that isn’t heard to create positive change.”
In March, Our Children’s Trust shifted the defendant in their suit from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. Trump’s lawyers were quick to respond — filing a request for an interlocutory appeal and fighting against the evidentiary discovery demands of Our Children’s Trust’s lawyer, Julia Olson. Whereas Obama honored Xiuhtezcatl as a change maker, Trump seems ready to go to war with him.
Meanwhile, Our Children’s Trust is also suing the state of Colorado over fracking policies, along with legal action pending in five other states.
“I think it’s very important for young people to be involved, because we are the ones who are going to be the most affected,” says Emma Bray, a fellow plaintiff in the case.
The Earth Guardians and Our Children’s Trust understand that today’s teens have both contributed to climate change the least and have the most to lose in the decades to come. It’s very easy for older generations to be callous about the environment — they won’t be around to see the effects of their choices. Young people don’t have that luxury.
“I think to create tangible change we have to work within the legal system to influence policy,” Xiuhtezcatl says. “‘[We have to] hold governments accountable and take action in our courts, in our streets, in our communities. When people understand that this is about more than just the environment, people who are more than just environmentalists get involved.”
So far, Our Children’s Trust has seen major victories, both on the state and national levels, but the issue of climate change won’t go away without concerted effort. Still, with warriors like Xiuhtezcatl and the Earth Guardians leading the charge, the future seems to be in good hands.