UMC Connection to Youth Climate Trial in Montana
The Creation Advocacy Network is a Montana climate and creation justice action group sponsored by Helena United Methodist Ministries of St. Paul UMC. They have been closely following and actively supporting the Youth Climate Trial against the state of Montana. See their posts sent during and after the trial through their Facebook group. Learn more about the historic and inspiring case here.
By Crys Zinkiewicz
August 14, 2023, was a day for our children. In the first-ever climate trial 16 young people, ages 5–22, took their state to court over their future—and won! In Held v. State of Montana the 16 plaintiffs, represented by Our Children’s Trust, claimed that by supporting the fossil-fuel energy system the state is violating their constitutional rights—
- To a clean and healthful environment,
- To seek safety, health, and happiness
- To individual dignity
- To equal protection of the law
The young people also looked beyond their own future and charged that Montana’s support of the fossil-fuel energy system violates constitutionally protected public trust resources—the atmosphere, lakes and waterways, and fish and wildlife.
The road to justice had been a long 3 ½ years. After the final ruling by Judge Kathy Seeley came, Rikki Held, the lead plaintiff, voiced the double frustration that many youth across the world feel, “It meant so much to me that a decision-maker was listening to our stories and understands what’s going on.”
The rest of the world can take a lesson from our children. These young people turned from worry and ill-health to passion and persevered despite facing willful ignorance, bureaucracy, antipathy, and moneyed opposition. Held had not been the first to try. In 2015, 21 young Americans had filed a similar lawsuit, Juliana v. United States. After multiple motions, injunctions, amendments, stays, appeals, and other legal hurdles, Julianna is now preparing for trial. Passion and perseverance.
Partners is another lesson to take. Both Held and Juliana are supported by Our Children’s Trust, “the world’s only non-profit public interest law firm dedicated exclusively to securing the legal rights of youth to a healthy atmosphere and safe climate, based on the best available science, and all at no cost to them or their families.”
With legal actions in multiple areas of the world, Our Children’s Trust has also built a community and created a documentary, based on Juliana v. United States, to tell the story to a wider audience. Youth v. Gov premiered in 2020 and is now available free on Netflix. The good news is that the ending of the film is not the ending of the case. Juliana is now back on track for a new trial. Passion, perseverance, partners.
So, what steps can we in the church take with our children?
Hear the voices of young people—Rikki Held’s message is clear: listen to us; understand the crisis. And act.
- Learn about the causes and multiple repercussions of climate change. Talk about them. Teach others.
- Show the documentary, Youth v. Gov or the 6-minute music video, “Granddaughter’s Eyes.” Include youth in the audience. Discuss the content. Listen especially to the youth.
- Learn more about the legal work of Our Children’s Trust. Donate to the cause.
- Commit to praying for the lawsuits that are still pending, including Juliana v. US and those in other states (Utah, Virginia, Florida, Hawai’i) as well as in Canada and Mexico.
- Write letters or emails or make phone calls in support of the youth plaintiffs. For Juliana contact the Department of Justice, the Attorney General, and the President.
- Advocate for change at the state and local levels, expressing the need for a better future.
- Choose a local creation justice issue that raises your passion. Begin addressing it, being sure to include youth in planning and decision-making. Find the partners you need. Persevere.
Crys Zinkiewicz holds a masters in Christian Education and has had a 30-year career in curriculum development at The United Methodist Publishing House. She is a member of the Creation Justice Movement’s Communications Team and the writer of the monthly Creation Justice Tips.