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The Pony Express

The student news site of Stillwater Area High School

The Pony Express

The student news site of Stillwater Area High School

The Pony Express

Youth lead fight for environmental change

Photo by Bailey Holmes
Gas goes into the air from a natural gas factory located on the north shore of Lake Superior. These factories produce 30% less carbon emissions than oil factories, but still are a main contributor to climate change as a whole.

This past summer, a group of 16 youth environmental activists sued their home state of Montana in a landmark climate trial and won, but not just with scientific facts. They used the Constitution. This was a first-of-its-kind court case in the United States, but far from the last. Since then, there have been several big wins in the environmental community, and more specifically in Minnesota. The case Held v. Montana created a domino effect of positive change in caring about the climate, as well as youth voices, across the country and world. 

This lineup of court trials began during a summer of record-high temperatures, flooding and natural disasters around the world. In Montana specifically, this presented itself with disasters caused by the 4000 oil wells, 5000 gas wells, four oil refineries and six coal mines that all contributed to wiping out forestry and opening up land to extreme mudslides. This directly caused rivers to be mucky dumping grounds for all sorts of natural and unnatural materials.

An article about the trial written by David Gelles and Mike Baker from The New York Times said the court found that when adding together all of the greenhouse gasses created by Montana alone, it is “responsible for as much carbon dioxide as produced by Argentina, the Netherlands or Pakistan.” Those are entire countries. Montana is a singular state.

Leading the fight against youth voices and scientific facts is the state’s attorney general, Austin Knudsen. He believes that there is no possible way that Montana alone is contributing to climate change on a larger scale, and what the thousands of oil and gas wells have done for the overall economy is more important.

“This is our future – our water, our public lands, our resources, our health, our country that is at stake.”

— Kids For The Boundary Waters

In a statement for Gelles and Baker’s article in the New York Times, Knudsen’s spokeswoman said that the ruling was “absurd” and a “taxpayer-funded publicity stunt,” She added, “Montanans can not be blamed for changing the climate.”

But the truth is that the trial was not about just placing the blame on the state, it was about the fact that Montana fully broke their promise that all residents have a right to a “clean and healthful environment”, quoted directly from the state’s updated constitution created in 1972. Instead, Montana legislators have continued to make laws in favor of commercial oil and gas companies so they could get around the testing done by environmental and climate specialists when putting new projects into effect. That is what the Judge ruled as “unconstitutional” and what the youth used as a base to fight back from.

In a statement by Julia Olson quoted from an interview done with reporters Amy Beth Hanson and Matthew Brown from the Associated Press, she said that this was “a huge win for Montana, for youth, for democracy, and for our climate.”

This trial occurred in early summer and paved the path for many more youth climate leaders to step up across the country, including in Minnesota. The executive director of Save The Boundary Waters launched a separate program for kids specifically to get involved in climate action. Elise Falconer, a local Minnesota teen was elected as the President of Kids For the Boundary Waters, whose goal is to educate and get youth involved in the fight to keep Minnesota waters free from mining and drilling. Sulfide-ore copper mines are specifically what many commercial companies have tried to implement into the BWCA, but failed to as youth-involved environmental organizations have fought against them.

A statement from the Kids for the Boundary Waters website explained, “Saving the BWCA is most critical to us KIDS who will be inheriting whatever mess gets left behind. This is our future – our water, our public lands, our resources, our health, our country that is at stake.”

Youth have felt for too long like their voices are being drowned out in a sea of legislators who do not care to understand the urgency of the issue and do not believe that youth voices are worth listening to. Now, they are proving those people in power wrong and taking their voices back. So please, stand up for what you believe, speak for the trees, and listen to the ones you normally wouldn’t because youth will not back down until change is made.

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About the Contributor
Bailey Holmes
Bailey Holmes, Photography Editor-in-Chief
Senior Bailey Holmes is an outdoor lover, adventure seeker, and avid Nordic ski racer. She loves expressing her thoughts and opinions through words, which is where she found her other love of writing for the newspaper. She started photography second semester of her junior year and immediately found a passion for it. She is looking forward to continuing her writing and photo skills as an Editor-in-Chief for the Pony Express throughout her last year of high school.

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