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Climate change fires up church

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Kiran Oommen stood before 60 members of the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ on Sunday and was asked by one of the children if he’s famous because he’s part of a lawsuit against the federal government over climate change.

“Lots of people know our names,” responded the 22-year-old senior at Seattle University and former Eugene resident. “I am not any more important than anybody else.”

Almost by accident, Oommen has become one of the “faces” of an unusual lawsuit, known as Juliana v. United States, brought by 21 young people that seeks to force the federal government to address climate change. Oommen has been a plaintiff in the case since his senior year in high school.

Last month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted the government’s petition for a delay, one of many in the case since the suit was filed in 2015. The U.S. Supreme Court even intervened granting a temporary stay after a court date was set in October 2018. No new trial date has been set.

Oommen has been making the rounds, talking to church groups about the importance of the lawsuit.

He’s also traveled to Europe to meet like-minded people supporting work to help climate change.

“It’s a lot bigger than just us,” he said.

A self-described punk rocker, Oommen has an affinity with the United Christian Church since his mother is a minister in Eugene, but he acknowledges he isn’t a regular at church anymore.

But the movement that he’s become a part of has helped bring together church and environmental groups, he said.

He joined the lawsuit after he attended a youth camp put on by the Civil Liberties Defense Center in Eugene, noting that the environment and climate change are the most important issues for him.

“Somebody asked, ‘Do you want to sue the government for the environment?’” he said.

Oommen said he didn’t hesitate.

“The purpose of a community is to make the world a better place,” he said.

Ten of the youths involved in the suit are from Oregon, including Kelsey Julianna, 22, of Eugene.

The suit seeks to do what federal government has failed to do, which is to address the need for a major effort to limit the impacts of climate change on the young generation and generations to come, Oommen said.

While he’s going to school and working as a gardener, Oommen said he has been surprised at how much interest this case has generated.

“I consider this my career,” he said, noting that the youngest member of the suit is 11 years old and lives on an island off the coast of Florida.

Church members asked questions of Oomen for nearly an hour after Sunday service.

“He is a young adult who is inspiring,” said Medford resident Rachel Braga, a 37-year-old mother of two. “It’s important for my kids to see that.”

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @reporterdm.

Environmental activitst Kiran Oommen meets with Rev. Laura Lee Kent and the children of the Medford Congregational United Church of Christ during a service Sunday. Photo by Denise Baratta
Kiran Oommen