Historic US Climate Trial Begins in Montana

The United States’ first ever constitutional climate trial has begun today, 13th June 2023, in Montana. The case was brought by 16 plaintiffs, all young people between the ages of 5 and 22. They allege that their constitutional rights have been violated due to the state’s pro-fossil fuel policies.

The groups opening statement claimed that climate change, assisted by the state’s legislation, has contributed to drought, wildfires, and extreme heat among other environmental conditions throughout Montana. This has then led to major concerns for the plaintiff’s health and wellbeing. They claim that there is clear scientific evidence linking their health, the climate issues Montana is facing and the burning of fossil fuels.

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Montana Wildfires

The state of Montana is responsible for more planet heating pollution and is a higher contributor to climate change then some countries. In response, Montana state officials claim that their contribution to climate is “too miniscule” for them to make any real change to the global issue. Since 1972, the Montana state constitution has maintained that the “state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations”.

Mae Nan Ellingson is the first expert witness to testify in this climate trial and was the youngest delegate to Montana’s 1972 Constitutional Convention. When commenting on the case, she states “I’m honoured that I’m able to be here and share my thoughts.” She also comments on the constitution itself, “I’m proud of this constitution. I’m particularly proud of the right to a clean and healthful environment.”

The named plaintiff in the case, Rikki Held, testified regarding the impact climate change and Montana’s policies have had on her and her family, who live in the south-east corner of the state. “Some of the impacts are just with wildfires, drought, flooding, more extreme weather events such as windstorm and hail, changes in wildlife behaviour.”

Many other members of the group spoke up, commenting on how the climate crisis affected both them and their families personally. 19-year-old Grace Gibson-Snyder commented on wildfire smoke and how it has affected her ability to play soccer outdoors as well as her future family plans should the climate crisis not be abated. “As we were running, sprinting up and down the field, it just fills your lungs…I’m not sure if I can morally or ethically have children of my own.”

Yellowstone River, Montana

Finally, 17-year-old Eva spoke about how a parasite in the Yellowstone River in 2016 (proven to be linked to climate change) as well as subsequent torrential flooding devastated the local community. “It made me feel very, very scared,” she said. She goes on to say that her future feels “uncertain” due to climate crisis.

With more young people calling for action to stop the climate crisis and cease fossil fuel reliance, there is a strong sentiment for change. As long as the status quo of fossil fuel usage continues, then the world will continue to go down this path of environmental destruction. This court case in Montana shows that the climate crisis is a global crisis and everyone, no matter how ‘miniscule’ their contribution, must do everything they can to make the necessary changes for a greener future. As 2030 is just around the corner, we must work together to fight the challenges of climate change and hit the target of net zero carbon emission.