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

I’m Juliana Merullo, in this week for Megan Hall. I’m normally a reporter for Possibly, but I’m also only 22, and today we’re doing a full youth-takeover of the show. 

In a past episode, we talked about the climate lawsuit a group of young people won against the state of Montana. 

They argued that the state failed its constitutional responsibility to provide a clean and healthy environment for Montana residents, and they brought in all sorts of climate science and policy experts to help prove their case. 

But most of these young people also testified at the trial. What did they have to say? 

So we’re going to bring you some of their testimonies, recorded live at trial. 

These are people even younger than I am, telling the court what it's like to grow up in a climate crisis. 

A lot of the testimony at the trial focused on how the current climate in Montana is anything but clean and healthy. In the summers, wildfires and smoke have made it almost impossible to go outside. Claire Vlases is a 20 year old plaintiff from Helena, Montana. 

Claire: “You can set the scene, right. It’s smoky, the world is burning, I can’t go outside unless I want my lungs to feel like they’re on my fire and my nose to be full of smoke. And it sounds like a dystopian horror film but it’s not it’s real life. I don’t remember a summer that didn’t involve smoke. When I think about summer in Montana I think about smoke. And that’s what us kids have to deal with.”

Juliana: I get Claire’s point. I used to feel lucky that we don’t have wildfires where I live in New England, but then last summer the air quality was so bad because of wildfires that I couldn’t exercise outside. I was frustrated that it was out of my control, and that was only for a couple of days. 

Another plaintiff, Eva turned 14 years old the day the case was filed. Because she’s under 18, we’re not going to use her last name.

She and her family live next to the Yellowstone River, where there has been bad flooding in past years. 

Eva: “On the day of the flood I helped fill sandbags, and after the fact I helped clean out people’s homes…

Lawyer: Were you afraid? 

Eva: Very. It made me feel very very scared and I didn’t know what to do, and there were all sorts of emotions running and my mind was racing and I couldn’t wrap my head around it, and it was all just very tumultuous”

Juliana: The plaintiffs didn’t just talk about these extreme weather events. Sariel Sandoval is 21 and a member of the Salish and Kootenai tribes. She says climate change is threatening her people’s way of life.  

Sariel: Creation stories are only to be told when there’s snow on the ground, and it’s really concerning because the time that we can share those stories and explain to our youth who we are and our place in the world is becoming shorter and shorter, especially because the snow is not staying on the ground as long. and one day we’re not going to have snow on the ground and then what happens to those stories”

Juliana: A lot of the plaintiffs talked about being afraid of the future, including Grace Gibson-Snyder. She’s 19 years old.

Grace: “Just knowing that I have 80 years left of living in Montana and living on this earth and knowing that my health will be in danger for those 80 years, my livelihood, my home, that’s a long time to live with that and to wrestle with that for that long. And that’s a burden that older generations do not have to carry” 

Juliana: Grace talked more about the ways that burden falls on young people. 

Grace: “I’m 19, I have school, I have friends, I love to do fun things, but I will often have this moment in the middle of whatever else I’m doing where… just this feeling of crushing guilt. Why am I spending time on other things when there is this crisis to be managed? And this guilt often gives way to frustration that it is in my mind. It shouldn’t have to be in my mind. Ideally it wouldn’t be in any of our minds, it would have been solved 50 years ago, but it’s in my mind now. And as a young person I don’t think it is my responsibility to be dealing with the physical impacts, the mental impacts, or the guilt of feeling like it is my responsibility to fix this” 

Juliana: I think the question of responsibility for climate change is something a lot of people worry about. I know I do. When the lawyers asked the plaintiffs why they wanted to join the lawsuit, a lot of them said they felt like they had to do something. Here’s Grace again: 

Grace: “I was 16 when this case was filed, and I couldn’t vote. As someone that couldn’t influence the legislature I had very few ways of asking a government to do what’s best for my health and my rights, and the way that was left to me was to ask the courts to uphold our rights and bring the state back in line with the constitution.” 

Juliana:  At the trial, the young people and their lawyers had to not only prove that climate change was real and causing them mental and physical harm, but that the state was making decisions that make the climate crisis worse.. 

So, at the end of his testimony, 18 year old Lander Busse spoke directly to the representatives of the state sitting in the courtroom. 

Lander: I don’t know how you can sit in this courtroom and listen to everything that's been said here and not have a semblance of regret or even responsibility to get up and fix these things that we have been told first hand can be fixed.”

Juliana: The state chose not to contest basically anything that the plaintiffs talked about, which means it’s all officially in the court record. Representatives of the state have said it will appeal the ruling. 

Olivia Vesovich is 20 years old, and she says whatever happens, she’s not giving up. 

Olivia: “I choose to have hope, I choose a world in which there is no hope is a far too devastating reality, and I know that our people are resilient, I know I am resilient and I know we have time.”

Beyond just the legal victory, the young people sent a powerful message about how our generation is experiencing the climate crisis, and how we’re still fighting for a better future. 

In our next episode on this case, we’ll talk directly with one of the plaintiffs, about her experience as part of this lawsuit, and how she’s continuing the fight. 

I want to give a big thank you to KGVM in Montana for letting us use their audio from the courtroom. 

That’s it for today.

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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.