Dick Barrett

Sixteen young Montanans are in court this week, suing the state of Montana for deliberately refusing to account for the destructive impact of its decisions on the global climate, and hence depriving them of their Constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.

In response, the state claims that the impact of its actions on the global climate and the wellbeing of the plaintiffs are de minimis – “simply too miniscule to make any difference.” Montana is, in the state’s words, a mere “spectator” in the unfolding battle to arrest climate change. We should not settle for such irresponsible passivity.

It is true that a very substantial part of the climate change afflicting Montana is the result of emissions originating outside the state. And that means that only concerted action by other states and nations to contain their emissions will secure a clean and healthy environment for Montana kids. Accordingly, for the state to comply with its Constitutional obligation to protect its children’s environment, it must pursue and promote such concerted action.

Can we succeed? Well, we don’t know, but we had sure better try. We can lead by example. Our political leaders, rather than sitting helplessly as spectators on the sidelines, can work with leaders elsewhere.

What we do know is that if we deliberately and callously refuse to account for the climate impacts of our own decisions, we can’t expect other states or nations to worry about the impact of their decisions on us. If we tell our global neighbors that we don’t care about the harm we are doing to their children, we can’t expect them to care about the harm they are doing to ours.

The first, essential step on the road to protecting our kids from the climate crisis is to take responsibility for our own actions.

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