Sarah Lundquist

I’ve heard it many times by many well-intentioned adults. “The kids will save us,” “Youth are our last hope,” “We tried, now it’s up to the children,” and similar sentiments are shared all too often in the environmental space.

It’s a nice thought that the next generation will be better, more resilient, more equipped to turn the tide than those previous. And it certainly is fair and important to have faith in the next generation. I look at my toddler and have similar hopes for her - that she learns from my mistakes, that she turns out to be wiser, kinder, stronger, better than I am.

But what kind of mother would I be if I stopped there? If I threw my hands up in the air and said, “Oh well, I gave it a shot. All I can do now is hope she figures it out for herself,” despite there being many more childrearing years ahead of us, and despite the fact that I, myself, am still young and have lots of work left to do?

A mother’s job is never over. We don’t give up when things get hard or when they seem hopeless. Moms are tough. We work hard and we fight for our families and our communities. We don’t just hope for a good life for our kids - we actively work to build a better future for our children.

I don’t expect my daughter to raise herself - that is my job. Similarly, I don’t expect teenagers to save us from climate chaos. Not because teenagers are not capable of taking meaningful action, but because it will take an intergenerational, all-hands-on-deck approach to turn this ship around.

Youth certainly have a lot to offer the climate movement, and adults should be providing opportunities for young people to get involved and take on leadership roles. But this requires active support, engagement, guidance, and living examples from the adults in the room, and it also requires adults to provide tools and resources for youth leaders whenever possible.

A great example of youth leadership meaningfully supported by adults is the upcoming Held v. State of Montana lawsuit - the first youth-led and the first constitutional climate lawsuit to go to trial in the United States. This case was filed on March 13, 2020 by 16 young people across Montana (represented by Our Children’s Trust, Western Environmental Law Center, and McGarvey Law), who are suing the state government over its role in perpetuating the climate crisis.

The plaintiffs argue that, by supporting a fossil fuel-driven energy system, the State of Montana is violating their rights to a clean and healthful environment; to seek safety, health, and happiness; and to individual dignity and equal protection of the law. The trial is scheduled for June 12-23, 2023 at the First Judicial District Court in Helena, Montana.

The youth plaintiffs in this case are passionate, courageous, and capable - and, they are supported by a network of professionals, organizations, parents, and others who are backing them up and providing tools and resources to help them along the way. That is not to downplay the vulnerable, front-and-center role these young people have taken on in this trial. In the words of Isaac Kantor, father of plaintiff Mica Kantor, “It’s important to remember the personal risk each of [the plaintiffs] has taken to be there.

Although there are many plaintiffs, in deposition and on the witness stand, each of them must, and has chosen to, stand alone in a way few adults and fewer politicians have the will to do.” Instead, it is to say that even in youth-centered activism, there is a role for people of all ages to take supportive action. It is not enough to pat the kids on the back and tell them we believe they can save us - we must both express our appreciation and hold ourselves responsible to take meaningful action in partnership with and alongside the youth.

There will be many opportunities to show up for and support the youth plaintiffs when the case goes to trial in June (follow Families for a Livable Climate to stay in the loop!), and leading up to the trial you can help spread the word about the case, make a donation, sign the wall of support, and keep an eye out for upcoming local events to support the trial (including the Youth V Gov screenings in Livingston on May 15 and Billings on June 7). Find more information about supporting the case here.

As a mother, the Held v. Montana lawsuit brings tears to my eyes - both tears of pride, and tears of disappointment. I feel proud of these young people, and so deeply grateful for their courageous efforts. And yes, knowing that the next generation is comprised of passionate activists and leaders does give me hope for the future.

However, I also feel disappointed that our lack of action has necessitated our kids to step up and pick up our slack, at great personal expense to them. We have placed a heavy burden on our children by kicking the can down the road on climate change, and in many ways we have robbed them of their childhoods by expecting them to accomplish right now what we couldn’t as adults.

But, there is still time. Many of us adults still have fight left in us. This Mother’s Day, I invite all of us adults to channel our inner Mama Bear. To do what moms do best and stand up and fight for our children, our families, and our communities by taking meaningful action on climate change.

Sarah Lundquist is the mother of a spunky 1.5 year old, and the Communications Director for Families for a Livable Climate.