“Plaintiffs have a fundamental constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment, including climate as part of an environmental life-support system.”
as part of our series individual climate action Earlier this summer, we interviewed Claire Wallace, a young plaintiff in the Held v. Montana climate lawsuit, about her experience taking what some would consider an extreme action for the climate: suing her state government,
At the time, he told us: “I think the only way to get us heard is by taking drastic action. I think young people across the state are interested in what we can really do, and how far people can go to feel that they have been heard. And we’re excited to see the test results.”
The verdict in this matter was pronounced on Monday. Judge Cathy Seeley sided with Wallace and 15 of his compatriots, ruled that the state’s fossil fuel policies were violated Youth’s constitutionally protected right to a clean and healthy environment in Montana.
Grist as Climate Solutions Partner Katie Myers wrote earlier this weekThe decision could set a precedent for future lawsuits and may even influence current climate lawsuits across the country. The case was the first of its kind to go to trial – but the trust of our childrenThe nonprofit law firm representing the youth plaintiffs also has youth-led climate lawsuits pending in four other states as well. federal case,
Seely, the judge, found that “every additional ton of greenhouse gas emissions amplifies plaintiff’s injuries and increases the risk of irreversible climate injuries.” his reign Several more cited specific ways that climate change has already affected each of the plaintiffs.
“The legal community is afraid that judges won’t understand these cases, and they blow it away,” said Julia Olsson, founder of Our Children’s Trust. told the New York Times, “It was digestible, he understood it, and the conclusions were beautiful.”
We caught up briefly with Claire Wallace to hear her thoughts on the outcome of the trial. Their responses have been lightly edited for clarity.
> Now that the verdict is out, how are you feeling?
One. This is a life-changing decision, not just for me and the other plaintiffs. This will have ramifications for all of Montana as we now know that the state cannot continue with “business as usual”. This decision has validated the challenges I face in my life due to climate change, and for the first time in my life, my government has said: “We listen to you, and we will protect your rights.” As a young person, it often feels like what I say or do doesn’t matter when it comes to policymaking or any real change. Now, I feel hope for the future in a way I never have before. I hope this decision inspires other youth around the world to stand up for their rights even in the face of adversity.
Q. What benefits do you get from being a part of this historic trial?
One. This trial will set a precedent for the future. Young people matter. Environmental protection matters. Our rights matter. It gives me faith in our democratic system, and that it’s okay to speak up when your government isn’t respecting the rights you’re guaranteed. We are heard.
Although this decision will almost certainly be appealed, the timing of this decision is poignant. Several young litigants in Montana testified that climate change has affected their lives, from extreme heat to wildfires that spread close to their homes. The summer of 2023 has been a record-setter for those Deadly Climate Effects,
The Maui wildfires, which have so far killed at least 99 people, It has been declared the worst disaster in the history of the state of Hawaii. And the deadliest US fire in more than a century.
Hawaii has its own youth-led climate litigation, who will see his day in court next summer. Although the cases differ, they have some basic things in common. Montana, Similar to Hawaii state constitution Guarantees that “every person has the right to a clean and healthy environment, as defined by laws relating to environmental quality, including the control of pollution, and the protection, conservation and enhancement of natural resources.”
The Hawaii lawsuit, brought by 14 young plaintiffs who are also represented by Our Children’s Trust, focuses less on energy development and more on projects like highway expansion—the plaintiffs are State Transport Department sued For his role in promoting a polluting system that would “shut down and increase the use of fossil fuels, rather than projects that reduce and reduce emissions.”
– Claire Elise Thompson
Who contributed reporting to this newsletter?
see for yourself
Our Children’s Trust has taken legal action in all 50 states, including lawsuits and petitions – see This list To learn about the status of their efforts in your home state (if you live in the US).
a parting shot
Young plaintiffs smile for a group photo as they prepare to begin trial in front of the First District Judicial Court of Montana on June 12. Their age ranged from 6 to 22 years.