A climate change lawsuit's young plaintiff, Jayden Foytlin, 14, marches in Washington. Photo: The Times-Picayune

By Neela Banerjee and Zahra Hirji
13 June 2017

RAYNE, Louisiana (The Times-Picayune) – As far back as Jayden Foytlin can remember, her cousin Madison came over to celebrate her birthday. The girls had been best friends since they were toddlers and spent almost every weekend together, playing video games and basketball in their driveways.

This year, things were different. In the weeks before Jayden's 14th birthday, Madison's mother stopped arranging get-togethers, and she didn't answer text messages inviting Madison to Jayden's birthday party. "We thought that maybe she was out of town with her family," Jayden said. "Or I thought that maybe Madison had a sleepover the same day as my birthday."

The text that cleared up matters came on the afternoon of Jayden's birthday, as she and her family piled into their hybrid sport utility vehicle to go roller skating. Madison's mother wrote that her daughter wasn't allowed to see Jayden anymore. She was keeping Madison away because Jayden is one of 21 young plaintiffs suing the federal government for its alleged failure to curtail fossil fuel development and address climate change.

"I don't want nothing to do with children being in adult situations nor will any of our children," said the text to Jayden's mother, Cherri Foytlin. "I think it's pathetic that a young girl is even involved in something like this."

Map showing locations of the 21 plaintiffs in the Our Children's Trust suit, ages 9 to 21. Graphic: Paul Horn / InsideClimate News

The lawsuit, filed by Our Children's Trust in 2015, relies on a novel legal strategy that has yielded victories for climate activists seeking sweeping policy change in other countries. The federal government, under both the Obama and Trump administrations, and the fossil fuel industry have repeatedly sought to have the case dismissed. But federal judges have so far upheld the plaintiffs' right to a hearing, which means the case could come to trial as early as November.

Jayden, perhaps more than the other plaintiffs, has felt the impact of climate change. She has watched hurricanes batter her state and the rise of the sea hollow out a coastline already damaged by sinking land, wetlands destruction and oil industry dredging. After a storm hit her hometown of Rayne last August, she woke up in her bedroom ankle-deep in water, though her neighborhood had never flooded before. Her house, still damaged after the August storm, flooded again in early May. [more]

Meet the Louisiana teen who is suing the federal government over climate change

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