Viewpoint: Montana climate trial to take national stage
Allison Young, Hillery Daily and Colette Kirchhoff
On June 12th, Montana will be in the national spotlight as the first ever constitutional climate trial - Held v. the State of Montana - takes place in Helena.
National attention to our state is increasing, as 16 youth, representing different rural and urban communities in Montana, assert that the government is violating their constitutional right to a clean and healthy environment and their opportunity to seek safety, health, happiness, and equal protection of the law.
The case builds on years of legal work culminating in a federal court ruling stating that “a stable climate system, capable of sustaining life, is a fundamental right.” Plaintiffs, and their legal representatives recognized that where political leadership may fail, our judicial system could offer a safeguard for their future.
Montana was chosen due to our state constitution’s guarantee of “the right to a clean and healthful environment for present and future generations.” The youth argue that the state’s fossil fuel energy system is degrading and depleting Montana’s constitutionally protected public lands and resources, including the atmosphere, rivers and lakes, and fish and wildlife. Montana is the fifth largest coal producing state and 12th in oil production.
Over the years since this case was first imagined in 2011, the federal and state government continues to extensively support and subsidize the fossil fuel industry. Meanwhile, human health impacts from climate change, ranging from extreme heat and wildfire to drought and flooding, are becoming more serious and widespread. This case will draw on experts and the massive amount of scientific evidence detailing how fossil fuels accelerate climate change.
As a group, the youth plaintiffs, represent a population vulnerable to current and future health impacts from climate change. As one member recently said:
I am eager to have our day in court so all of the plaintiffs’ voices can be heard. Young people are the ones suffering the most from Montana's continued promotion of fossil fuels and I hope our trial will help turn our future for the better. – Mica K
As members of the non-profit, Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, many of us serve the health needs and well-being of Montana’s children. Looking upon their faces, one cannot miss the passion, conviction, optimism and hope about the future that the youth voice so uniquely and powerfully conveys, as embodied in these 16 plaintiffs.
As they present their case, we hope that the public will come together and support their effort and bravery. They are, quite simply, asking the government to take their concerns seriously and to take care with their future and that of future generations to come.
For more information about this case, view the documentary film, Youth v. Gov, on Netflix and visit bit.ly/MTClimateTrial.
Allison Young, MD, FAAP, Missoula; Hillery Daily, ND, LAc, Hamilton; and Colette Kirchhoff, MD, FAAFP, Bozeman.