Voices: Montana youth lead the way – but they shouldn’t have to
Katy Spence, Sarah Lundquist, & Caitlyn Lewis
“...to improve the quality of life, equality of opportunity and to secure the blessings of liberty for this and future generations…”
These words from Montana's Constitution are not hollow. In some way, all of us want to leave something for those who come after us: treasured family heirlooms, a home for their children, words of wisdom. We want to leave a piece of ourselves behind for them to remember us.
But for the youth of Montana, the inheritance they may receive could be one of hardship, destruction, and climate chaos.
Montana youth know this, and they know that their future is dependent on the choices made by our towns, state, and nation right now. Our Legislature just spent five months debating and passing bills that undermine climate action and our Constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment.
The Governor has signed several of these bills: HB 971 prohibits our state agencies from considering climate impacts; SB 228 and SB 208 pave the way for petroleum companies and infrastructure to do whatever they want, without regulation from local governments; a suite of coal mining bills removes protections for water and public input on expansions; and several land use bills will result in more water pollution and climate-damaging sprawl.
Instead of thinking about ways to improve the quality of life for future generations, legislators prioritized short-term interests and perpetuated their decades-long commitment to propping up expensive, polluting fossil fuels, rather than climate action and renewable energy.
Our Constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment is to the benefit of ALL Montanans. Republicans, Democrats, Independents, hunters, anglers, miners, farmers, ranchers, environmentalists, and all generations - young and old benefit from a healthy environment with air we can safely breathe, water we can safely drink, and a stable climate in which we can safely reside. If they truly cared about the health and wellbeing of our economy and skilled laborers, our state leaders would be fighting for a just transition and providing long-lasting, good-paying job opportunities that support the health and safety of our communities.
This is why a youth-led constitutional climate lawsuit is headed to court this June: Held v. the State of Montana. Sixteen young people across Montana are suing the state government for violating their rights to a clean and healthful environment by supporting a fossil fuel-driven energy system.
“It’s so ridiculous to expect these 7- and 12-year-olds to have to persuade the state to protect us so we can have a healthy life, when the entire point of the state is to protect our rights,” Grace Gibson-Snyder told Rolling Stone.
Another Montana young adult, Isabel Shaida, wrote in a recent opinion piece, “It is wrecking to hear folks generations older than me disregard long-term human health for the sake of immediate monetary benefit, bewildering to witness complete disregard for our air and waterways in order to protect a dying industry.”
They’re right. If we are truly committed to our Montana values – improving the quality of life for this and future generations – we need to take significant steps now to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels, increase energy efficiency, and protect our water resources. We shouldn’t be relying on our young people to fight for their future; we should be working to give them the best future possible. If we don’t, what type of legacy are we leaving them?
The undersigned organizations support these youth in their pursuit of climate justice, and urge Montana leaders and industries to join this movement for a healthy and secure future with a resilient and fair economy and energy system that works for all.
Organizations: Families for a Livable Climate, Montana Environmental Information Center, 350 Montana, Gallatin Valley Sunrise, Forward Montana, Montana Interfaith Power & Light, Climate Smart Missoula, Bitterroot Climate Action Group, Sleeping Giant Citizens Council, Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club, Montana Health Professionals for a Healthy Climate, Montana AAP Climate Committee, Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Creation Advocacy Network, Faith and Climate Action Montana