Juliana Merullo: Welcome to Possibly,  where we take on huge problems, like the future of our planet, and break them down into small questions with unexpected answers. I’m Juliana Merullo. 

Janek Schaller: And I’m Janek Schaller. We’re in for Megan Hall to continue our youth takeover of the show. 

Juliana Merullo: This week, we have more coverage of the climate lawsuit that was filed by a group of young people against the state of Montana. It was the first case like this in the US to go to trial, and the young people won! 

Janek Schaller: In a past episode, we spoke to an expert witness from the trial about the legal background for the case. She said Montana is special because its constitution includes the right to a clean and healthy environment. 

Juliana Merullo: So we’re going to start today’s episode with Montana itself. One small problem: Janek and I have never lived in Montana. Luckily, we just met someone who has spent her entire life there – in fact, her connection to Montana started before she was even born.

Grace Gibson-Snyder: My family has been in Montana for six generations, I was a fifth generation born in Montana.

Janek Schaller: That’s Grace Gibson-Snyder, who hails from Missoula, Montana. Even though she grew up in the city, she says she was never very far from the state’s beautiful outdoors. Right now, Grace is learning how to kayak.

Grace Gibson-Snyder: I can literally drive six blocks from my house to the river, get in, practice my roll a couple of times, and it takes like a total of 30 minutes.

Juliana Merullo: Grace said that one of the biggest parts of being a Montanan is enjoying and relying on its natural environment on a daily basis.

Janek Schaller: But Grace also knows Montana is a fossil-fueled state; much of the economy depends on extracting natural resources like coal and oil. 

Juliana Merullo: And while there might have been a time when these two parts of Montana could coexist, Grace says climate change has shown that’s not the case anymore.

Grace Gibson-Snyder: The extractive industry is no longer compatible with this outdoors that we value so greatly in Montana.

Juliana Merullo: With this in mind, Grace got involved with environmental advocacy in her hometown. But she was also hoping to make change on a broader scale, so when a guest speaker at her high school mentioned an upcoming climate lawsuit, she knew she wanted to help.

Janek Schaller: Now might be a good time to mention that we didn’t meet with Grace to talk about kayaking.

Grace Gibson-Snyder: I am first and foremost a student but I'm also a plaintiff in the constitutional climate lawsuit Held vs State of Montana.

Juliana Merullo: Grace is 19 now, but she was just 16 when the case was first filed back in 2020. 

Grace Gibson-Snyder:  I remember talking to my parents, bringing it to them and saying what do you think about me getting involved legally in something at age 16. They were very supportive… But we didn't expect it to go anywhere.

Juliana Merullo: I think a lot of people in our generation feel some responsibility to help fight the climate crisis. And because the young people who filed the case weren’t old enough to vote at the time, bringing a lawsuit like this was one of the only ways they could force their government to take action.

Janek Schaller: It took three years for the case to make its way to trial, and in the meantime, Grace had to balance her sense of responsibility with just being a regular teenager.

Grace Gibson-Snyder: We all want to be kids, like I was 16, I would much prefer to be thinking about like, prom than like, the end of the world, right. And it's really hard to balance the intensity of that with regular life. And I won't say that I'm particularly good at separating the two. (combined) 

Janek Schaller: I think Grace is speaking to something a lot of people our age are dealing with. Especially when we’re thinking about our futures, it can be hard to avoid letting climate anxiety dominate our everyday lives. 

Juliana Merullo: It’s so exciting to see these youth-led climate movements that are fighting back against that hopelessness. But at the same time, Grace says, 

Grace Gibson-Snyder: I really don't like that this movement is being led by youth. this whole concept of now let's involve youth in the space and see what they want. Well, everyone knows what we want. We want you to stop burning fossil fuels, and give us like a nice, clean, healthy environment for the next forever, hopefully.

Janek Schaller: Even if we didn’t ask to be the generation leading this fight, Grace and the other youth plaintiffs clearly aren’t backing down. But sometimes I wonder whether our generation can succeed even when past generations haven’t. Grace is still optimistic:

Grace Gibson-Snyder: It’s super inspiring to see just how invested everyone is, because I think we know we have no other choice. I believe in our ability to have an impact. Not out of hope, but out of necessity. 

Janek Schaller: The climate science and personal experiences they presented with their lawyers are now officially in the court record, and as a result, the state has to consider the climate impact of any new energy projects. 

Juliana Merullo: But beyond that, Grace says she hopes this legal victory will help protect the Montana she loves for generations to come.

Grace Gibson-Snyder: Knowing that, no, my kids won’t experience Montana in the same way that I will, or knowing that the glaciers will be gone, you know, within a couple of decades, what I work for is just the possibility of giving the next generation an experience even remotely similar to mine, because mine has been so spectacular, and so unique and wonderful. 

Janek Schaller: I think all of us are just trying to figure out how to navigate this climate crisis we’re living in. The youth climate movement, and young people like Grace, remind us why we should still have hope. 

Juliana Merullo: That’s it for today. For more information or to ask a question about the way your choices affect our planet, go to the publics radio dot org slash possibly. Or you can follow us on facebook and Instagram at ask possibly

Janek Schaller: Possibly is a co-production of The Public’s Radio and Brown University’s Institute for Environment and Society and Brown’s Climate Solutions Initiative.