When I arrived at the WRFI office in Missoula, Montana, I was more than ready to hop on my bike and begin cycling the plains and Rockies of Montana with my new fellow bike lovers. However,  instead of driving to Billings to start our month-long bike tour, we drove to Montana’s capital, Helena, for the first day of the youth-led climate action lawsuit, Held v. Montana. The case was filed by 16 young Montanans, ages 6-22, who argue that the state’s support of the fossil fuel industry has worsened the effects of climate change, including harmful impacts on the plaintiffs’ own lives. Climate scientists who spoke at this trial discussed how climate change is causing more extreme weather events. After listening to the plaintiffs’ testimonies, it was clear that these events are harming the plaintiffs’ health, property, and way of life. However, it didn’t take listening to the live trial for me to realize that I, too, have been observing the firsthand effects of climate change in Montana for most of my life.

I am a 6th generation Montanan; I was born and raised in Missoula, and I plan to spend much more of my life here. Listening to the plaintiffs discuss similar experiences to mine was like watching myself on the stand – in particular 19-year-old Grace Gibson-Snyder’s testimony.

Grace is three years younger than me and she is also from Missoula. In her testimony she
displayed photos of our hometown during wildfire season, where smoke can linger in the valley like a thick blanket. Grace discussed the climate-induced damages with which I am familiar: sports games and practices getting cancelled because of unsafe air quality during fire season, climate anxiety, and water damage to loved ones’ homes due to an increase in river flood events. Hearing Grace, as well as the other youth plaintiffs, speak my own thoughts and fears directly to our state government made this lawsuit both affirming and personal. As an Environmental Studies major, a wildland recreator, and a citizen, making sure Montana’s biodiversity is not completely lost is an obligation of mine. Future generations deserve to have at least the quality of life that I did growing up in Montana. Ideally, a future full of blue-ribbon trout rivers, reliable water sources, clean air, deep snowpacks, smokeless summers and abundant wildlife.

If these plaintiffs are successful, it could set a precedent for other youth-led climate lawsuits across the country. It could also encourage other states to adopt more ambitious climate policies. The trial just ended, but a verdict still needs to be made. If you want to voice your support, you can write a letter to the editor of a Montana newspaper, sign Our Children’s Trust online wall of support, or share messages of solidarity in whatever way you can.

The outcome of the Held v. Montana lawsuit could have a major impact on the future of climate litigation, and as Grace said in her testimony, “we must have hope, but we also must have a healthy dose of urgency.”

For more information regarding the trial, I recommend checking out these links: