Welcome back to The Planet You Save May Be Your Own, a weekly newsletter on local & state climate action. I’m Taylor Kate Brown and this newsletter grows by word-of-mouth. You can always share this email with friends or family or send along the link to subscribe.
Welcome back to The Planet You Save May Be Your Own, your weekly local climate change newsletter. I'm Taylor Kate Brown.
(Near Harrison, Montana by Kerry on Pexels)
As I'm traveling this week, I wanted to republish story about a new youth climate case scheduled for trial next year.
For more than a decade, a series of cases by young people arguing the US or other governments have failed to protect their generation from the effects of climate change, especially given they were too young to participate in the democratic process. The most famous of the cases, Juliana v US, was rejected by an appeals court for the plantiffs not having standing.
A similar case in Montana focuses on the state government. Here's more from the young people who've filed that case:
This story originated in The Guardian and is part of ‘Climate & Democracy,’ a series from the global journalism collaboration Covering Climate Now.
When Grace Gibson-Snyder was 13, she launched an independent project in her home town of Missoula, Montana, to encourage restaurants not to use single-use plastic containers. She found that youth activism enabled her to press the adults in her life to take the climate crisis seriously. Even if she was too young to vote, she could still be heard.
Three years later Gibson-Snyder upped the ante by teaming up with 15 other young people on a novel approach to climate activism: to sue the state of Montana for failing to protect their generation from irreversible harm brought by the climate crisis.
Their case, Held v State of Montana, argues that state lawmakers have prioritized the business interests of the fossil fuel industry over their future. When their case is heard next February, it will be the first in a wave of youth-led climate lawsuits to successfully go to trial. Experts say a decision in favor of the 16 youth plaintiffs could have sweeping implications across the country, setting guard rails for how politicians are able to protect the interests of extractive corporations.
“The world is literally burning all around them, and nothing’s being done about it,” said Nate Bellinger, a senior staff attorney with Our Children’s Trust, the non-profit law firm that is representing the youth plaintiffs. “Not only is the state not doing enough, but the state is continuing to affirmatively promote the fossil fuel industry and development.”
The 16 young people, who were between the ages of two and 18 when they filed the lawsuit in March 2020, have already felt the impacts of climate change, from dangerous air quality brought by wildfires to the extreme drought that jeopardizes some of their family-owned cattle ranches. As these environmental consequences mount, young people have emerged as a leading force in the climate activism movement.
In Montana in particular, the young activists face a political system that is deeply entrenched with the fossil fuel industry. Policy experts say Montana officials have shaped state laws around the financial interests of the energy companies, even while the science on the worsening consequences of climate change has been available and widely circulated.
The most notable change occurred in 2011, when the legislature made it easier for fossil fuel companies to increase drilling and prevented agencies from considering how future extraction projects would contribute to climate change. The move essentially hamstrung future climate legislation by placing a gag rule on questions related to environmental impact. That same year Montana withdrew from the Western Climate Initiative, an agreement between western states and parts of Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Anne Hedges, the director of policy and legislative affairs at the Montana Environmental Information Center, says that over the past 20 years the state legislature has undercut any progress that might have been made toward exploring renewable or non-extractive energy options.
“[Legislators] just don’t want anything to compete with coal,” she said. “The majority is committed to continuing down the path of burning coal.”
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