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Who is Kelsey Juliana? Meet the woman whose name is on the federal climate change lawsuit

She thinks her name was used for the lawsuit because she is the oldest plaintiff and has a long history of challenging the government over the environment.

PORTLAND, Ore. — The global warming lawsuit against the federal government taking center stage in Portland this week is called Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana v. United States of America.

So, who is Kelsey Juliana?

She's a 23-year-old college student from Eugene who attends the University of Oregon, and missed a final Tuesday because she was in Portland for the federal court hearing.

Credit: KGW
Kelsey Juliana

“Being connected to the earth and being respectful of sentient beings is definitely in my DNA,” she said, while waiting for arguments in the case.

Her parents drove to Portland that morning from Eugene. Her father said he looks forward to a time when consumers, including him, have more choices for fuels and transportation.

Kelsey is a passionate defender of the environment.

“This court case is about establishing a constitutional right to a stable climate system capable of sustaining human life,” she said.

She is the oldest of the 21 plaintiffs taking on the federal government. And it's not a political thing. They filed the lawsuit at the end of the Obama administration and are critical of presidents on both sides stretching back 50 years.

RELATED: US energy policy hurts young people, lawyer argues in federal climate change hearing

“Our government has knowingly, willfully made choices and pushed forward an energy system that is dependent on fossil fuels and that is causing, helping to contribute to climate chaos,” Kelsey said. 

More than four years after the case was filed, it’s still alive, to the surprise of the government, she believes. 

“When we first filed the case, the government did not take us seriously. They just thought they would be in and out, try to dismiss this case,” said Kelsey.

It has not worked out that way. The government has lost every attempt to get the case thrown out of court. And a federal judge in Portland ruled it should go to trial.

Kelsey spends much of her time in her hometown of Eugene, a place known for its environmental activism.  

Her name will have a place in legal history no matter which way the case eventually goes. She thinks her name was used for the lawsuit because she is the oldest plaintiff and has a long history of challenging the government over the environment.

In fact, she sued Oregon’s governor when she was a teenager.

“When I was 14 years old I started holding my state accountable. I mean, we are Oregon. We are a green state,” she said. 

And she didn’t like what was happening with the environment. She's learned many things from the experience, including how slowly the justice system sometimes works.

“Unfortunately, I was on that case for about eight years and we’re taking that up to the Supreme Court of Oregon,” Kelsey said.

Protest is part of Kelsey's earliest memories.

“Growing up, these issues were on my radar at the kitchen table and, in fact, my parents were talking about climate change and were climate activists in the 90s before I was born,” she said.

“We were concerned about making the world livable for our children and we were concerned about global warming, and the forest, liquidation that was happening in the 80s in the Pacific Northwest,” said Catia Juliana, Kelsey's mom.

Credit: KGW
Kelsey's parents, Timothy Ingasbee (left) and Catia Juliana (right)

Kelsey's mom gave her daughter her maiden name to keep it alive.

Her father had only girls and it was the end of the line, Catia said.

And Kelsey's middle name? Not an accident.

"We lived in the Cascadia Bioregion and roses are one of my favorite flowers and I just thought it was beautiful, and I wanted her to have a legacy in her name and to feel like she’s rooted in the earth and the place,” Catia said.

Given the connections between the environment and her name, and her parents' activism, perhaps it’s less of a surprise that Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana now anchors the biggest global warming lawsuit in the nation.

“It’s a big deal. I try not to think about it, honestly,” said Catia Juliana.

Kelsey’s father, Timothy Ingasbee, said he's grateful that she's fighting for the environment.

“I mean the thing with Kelsey is, I never set her on my knee and schooled her in all my philosophy. We just brought her to every march, rally, many meetings and she just absorbed,” he said.

Catia agrees.

“We raised her to be passionate about where she lives and her community.
And I’m really happy that she’s found a very important way to manifest her concerns and her passions," she said.

They both love their daughter—the now famous Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana.

RELATED: UN report says nature is in worst shape in human history

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