Young people took on fossil fuels and won. What’s next?


Grace Gibson-Snyder is a sixth-generation Montanan whose great-great-great-grandmother came to the state in a covered wagon.

The 19-year-old is one of the plaintiffs in a landmark win for climate change handed down this week. “It’s one of the strongest decisions on climate change ever issued,” says Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University’s law school.

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

The first climate case tried in the United States brought a landmark win for its young plaintiffs. Will this provide a model for other states that enshrine protecting the environment in their constitutions?

Ms. Gibson-Snyder understands why Montanans are particularly attuned to outsiders disrupting their way of life – whether it’s the Californians moving in and running up property values, or vacationers buying large homes and then trying to control ranching methods. 

But this is home for her and her fellow plaintiffs, she says.

“I don’t think climate change should be a political issue,” she said during an interview earlier this month in Missoula. “But it keeps getting politicized. We’re still accused of bringing in out-of-state, liberal ideas and attorneys. And that’s actually a misrepresentation, both literally and also in terms of our goals.”

She is uncomfortable with the label of climate “activist.” It feels too disruptive, when really she believes in government, democracy, and law.  

The lawsuit, she says, was simply asking elected leaders to do what they are supposed to do.

Montana lawmakers violated young people’s rights – and the state constitution – by ignoring fossil fuels’ impact on the climate, a judge ruled Monday.

In her decision supporting 16 young plaintiffs in Held v. Montana ­– the first constitutional climate case to be tried in the United States ­– District Judge Kathy Seeley wrote that fossil fuel extraction and use within the state was clearly tied to global climate change. She also found that young people have a particular standing to demand changes, since they will be disproportionately and negatively impacted by a rapidly heating planet. The decision has broad implications for environmental action across the country and, potentially, the world.

“It’s one of the strongest decisions on climate change ever issued,” says Michael Gerrard, director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University’s law school, which keeps a database of the more than 2,000 climate lawsuits that have been filed globally.

Why We Wrote This

A story focused on

The first climate case tried in the United States brought a landmark win for its young plaintiffs. Will this provide a model for other states that enshrine protecting the environment in their constitutions?

While the legal arguments in the Montana case, which did not seek financial compensation or damages, are specific to the state, he says, the judge’s findings on climate science itself were broadly noteworthy and decisive. And it could help influence an explosion of climate lawsuits making their way through court systems across the U.S. 

For much of the June trial, internationally renowned scientists gave testimony explaining the connections between fossil fuel use and climatic disruptions such as increased wildfires, heat extremes, and drought.

It was one of the first times that both climate science and climate change denialism were put under the microscope of American legal questioning, Mr. Gerrard said earlier this summer. And the judge’s decision reflects what many court-watchers noted during the trial: Climate science, already highly vetted and agreed upon by experts worldwide, is convincing – as are the impacts of a heating world on young people.



Source link

Leave a Comment