On Tuesday, March 29, 2022, Santa Clara University School of Law will honor Julia Olson with the Katharine and George Alexander Prize. Registration for the event is free. For those unable to attend in-person, the Prize Ceremony will be livestreamed. (As an aside, in 2018, Santa Clara Law School also honored alum Phil Gregory (JD/MBA ’80), who works closely with Julia Olson on her climate change cases, with the Edwin J. Owens Lawyer of the Year Award.) Santa Clara 2L Student Ariana Snyder prepared this 2-part write-up of our honoree and her trail-blazing work:
Part 1 – Julia Olson (By Ariana Snyder): Julia Olson graduated from the University of California, Hastings College of the Law in 1997. Her work as an advocate began early in her legal career when she represented various environmental groups working to protect the environment, organic agriculture, and human health. In 2006, on one hot summer day, eight-month pregnant Julia Olson went on a run. The heat was unbearable and so she sought out a place to cool off. Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” about climate change and the growing planetary emergency happened to play in a local movie theater.
When Julia Olson saw the film, she thought about the child she was pregnant with and the world they would be born into. Her child would be brought into a possibly unsafe planet plagued with climate issues. After coming to this realization and feeling the weight of her children’s future on her shoulders, Julia Olson knew she had to do something to protect her children’s future. A few years later, in 2010, Julia Olson founded Our Children’s Trust to lead a legal campaign on the behalf of all future generations.
Our Children’s Trust is a non-profit public interest law firm that provides campaign-based legal services to youths to protect their legal rights to a safe climate. She was inspired by the work of one of the world’s most respected climate scientists James Hansen and the Minors Oposa case, a lawsuit in the Philippines brought (and won) by environmental attorney Tony Oposa on behalf of his children against the government. Our Children’s Trust actively works to secure the Earth’s climate system for the present and future generations. Its legal campaign uses a strategy that focuses on media, education, and public engagement, with the goal of ensuring climate recovery planning at various government levels.
By the following year, Our Children’s Trust planned to file lawsuits in 50 states, but the law firm saw some defeats both in state and federal courts. After a review of its legal strategy, Our Children’s Trust filed a federal suit in Oregon raising constitutional claims. In 2015 Juliana v. United States was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon.