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Bay Area youth who grew up with the climate movement celebrate landmark Montana case

Bay Area youth who grew up with the climate movement celebrate landmark Montana case

Myroslava Fisun, 17, always wanted a seat at the table. Whether it was pollution in the San Francisco air or plastic in the water, witnessing the effects of climate change made her feel scared. But she wasn’t going to let that fear stop her from fighting to save the planet.

“When I just started my environmental advocacy, it was hard to connect with organizations as a youth because they were like, ‘Oh, but do you have the 10-plus years of professional experience?’” Fisun recounted. “And it’s like, ‘No, but I’m still an environmentalist.’”

After Montana District Court Judge Kathy Seeley ruled Monday in a historic youth-led Montana lawsuit that the state’s approval of fossil fuel projects violated their right to a “clean and healthful environment,” Fisun feels relieved — and energized to keep the momentum going.

“Now that young people are influencing policy, now that policy around climate is starting to happen, I want to see more of it,” the UC Berkeley student and Albany resident said.

Myroslava Fisun, who is from Albany, turned her fear surrounding climate change into action. She feels relieved by the ruling in the Montana case. (photo courtesy Myroslava Fisun) 

The win in Montana, which is the first of its kind in the U.S., comes amid devastating wildfires in Maui and record global heat waves, which are threatening crop yields both within the U.S. and elsewhere. For Bay Area youth, it has reaffirmed their concerns about the future and validated their work in a youth-led movement that has not seen a lot of wins in recent years. It has also highlighted the importance of collective action and shown them that there are legal pathways they can take to push for the policies they want to see.

Aaditi Lele, 20, a climate activist from Cupertino, first got involved with the movement when she was about 15. Learning about the forced displacement of communities due to climate catastrophe eventually led her to take an interest in lobbying elected officials. Now, Lele serves as the policy director at the youth-led climate justice nonprofit Zero Hour, where she has worked with Our Children’s Trust, the law firm that represented the plaintiffs in the Montana case.

When she heard about the win in Montana, she was “absolutely elated.”

“I think it’s a really important moment in this sort of litigation and just in the youth climate movement in general,” Lele said. “It was really exciting to see that there is this legal momentum that on paper, now from the authority of a judge, affirms that we have the right to hold our elected officials, our governments accountable.”

Lele also highlighted the “mental and emotional affirmation” the Montana case brings for youth who have grown up witnessing the effects of climate change on their communities.

“We’ve grown up constantly watching news about climate change, constantly worrying about climate change, and it being like an everyday part of our lives for a number of years,” Lele said, noting that much of the youth-led climate movement has shifted from strictly protests to protests and policy work. “And so, as we’ve grown up through that movement, the strategies, the amount of urgency that we feel, the amount of frustration that we feel has been carried with us and I think that really shows in the movement.”

Emily Flower, spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, said that the state will appeal the case. “This ruling is absurd, but not surprising from a judge who let the plaintiffs’ attorneys put on a weeklong taxpayer-funded publicity stunt that was supposed to be a trial,” said Flower.

While Lele finds the appeal to be “frustrating,” she also said “it’s nothing the movement hasn’t seen before.”

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“There is always pushback from legislators and always pushback from people in power,” Lele said. “I’m definitely confident that the attorneys and the plaintiffs will be able to respond.”

Jamie Minden, 20, who grew up in Sunnyvale and serves as the global organizing director for Zero Hour, thinks that this appeal could eventually lead the Montana case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I know that people who are working on this case are extremely dedicated,” she said, emphasizing that the plaintiffs in the Montana case “have grown up with this fight their entire lives.”

Minden also hopes that the win leads more people to join the climate movement, which she feels has lost some of its popularity over the past four years.

“I think it’s kind of like a dam that’s about to burst because the kinds of crises that have been happening are just going to keep getting worse,” Minden said. “I think we’re really close to a breaking point in terms of getting actual legislation passed…And so I would really encourage people not to give up and to get involved in organizing. It’s really rewarding and it makes you feel not so alone.”