Climate Change Revolution: Montana Youths Secure Historic Right to a Healthful Environment!



Climate Change

In a groundbreaking legal decision, a Montana district court judge ruled in favor of the state’s young residents, granting them a constitutional right to a healthful environment. This landmark case, the first of its kind in the United States, underscores the significance of recognizing climate change’s far-reaching consequences in evaluating new projects.

 Climate Change - Press Youth plaintiffs are greeted by supporters at Montana's First Judicial District Court in June. William Campbell/Getty Images
Youth plaintiffs are greeted by supporters at Montana’s First Judicial District Court in June. William Campbell/Getty Images

Key Highlights

  • Montana district court judge delivers a historic ruling granting constitutional right to a healthful environment for young residents.
  • The first-of-its-kind case emphasizes the necessity of considering climate change impact in evaluating new projects.
  • Diverse group of Montana youths, aged 5 to 22, assert state’s responsibility in addressing climate change consequences.

A Call for Climate Responsibility

While Montana had defended its relatively minor emissions on a global scale, the plaintiffs contended that the state’s approach was insufficient. They urged officials to consider how emissions were exacerbating phenomena such as droughts, wildfires, and other hazards that jeopardized the state’s cherished natural landscapes.


Acknowledging Climate Impact

Judge Kathy Seeley, in her momentous ruling, acknowledged that Montana’s emissions significantly contribute to climate change. She emphasized that laws constraining regulators from factoring in climate impact were unconstitutional. This legal victory underscored the pressing need to acknowledge the intricate connection between human activities and their substantial influence on the climate.

Youth plaintiffs in Held v. State of Montana gathered in June at Pioneer Park in Helena, Mont. Credit: Janie Osborne for The New York Times
Youth plaintiffs in Held v. State of Montana gathered in June at Pioneer Park in Helena, Mont. Credit: Janie Osborne for The New York Times

Celebrating the Victory

This victory celebrated by Julia Olson, the executive director of Our Children’s Trust, as an enormous achievement for Montana, its young generation, democratic values, and the planet’s well-being. The case sheds light on the urgency of addressing climate change and its severe ramifications.


Scientific Testimony and Urgent Action

During the trial held in June, climate scientists presented compelling evidence revealing how human-generated greenhouse gas emissions were already inflicting harm on both health and the environment. The worsening impacts, including extreme weather events, degraded water bodies, and disruptions to Indigenous customs, underscored the necessity of immediate action. The young plaintiffs passionately recounted their firsthand experiences, highlighting the detrimental effects they had personally observed.


Balancing Tradition and Progress

Montana’s history is intertwined with mining, dating back to its inception. A key target of the lawsuit was a law backed by Republican lawmakers, which restricted state regulators from considering the climate consequences of new mining ventures. However, Montana also boasts deep-rooted environmental values. In 1972, the state constitution was amended to emphasize the importance of preserving a clean and healthful environment for both current and future generations, a commitment that distinguishes Montana among the few states championing such explicit environmental rights.


Advocacy Beyond Borders

This momentous verdict reverberates beyond Montana’s borders. Environmental advocates foresee a potential domino effect, with this ruling pressuring not only state leaders but also influencing other pending litigation across various courts. Our Children’s Trust, instrumental in guiding the Montana case, achieved an initial success in June when a judge ruled that a similar lawsuit against the federal government in Oregon could proceed to trial.


Urgent Call for a Sustainable Future

Montana’s youth have emerged victorious in securing their constitutional right to a healthful environment. This trailblazing legal triumph underscores the undeniable link between human actions, climate impact, and the urgent need for responsive measures. The ruling is a clarion call for other jurisdictions to recognize the vital importance of safeguarding our planet’s fragile ecosystems for generations to come.

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