Youth plaintiffs in the climate change lawsuit, Held vs. Montana, arrive at the Lewis and Clark County Courthouse, on June 20, 2023, in Helena, Mont., for the final day of the trial.
Thom Bridge/AP

A Montana judge has ruled in favor of a powerful group of youth advocates fighting for the planet. It’s a major win for the climate, the advocates, and most importantly: For the kids. 

The group of young plaintiffs, backed by the legal firm Our Children’s Trust, argued that they have a right to a clean, healthy environment. After a smoky summer of wildfires, scorching heat, and severe weather, their case couldn’t be more timely. 

Despite the ever-present climate disasters and dire warnings from scientists, many states have failed to implement meaningful climate mitigation efforts. While Montana’s population and emissions may be small on a global scale, activists say that its efforts are backsliding and the state hasn’t made meaningful progress. The Montana state constitution guarantees the right to a “clean, healthful environment…for present and future generations.” The activists argued that their inaction is a violation of this clause.

The court ruled earlier this month that the state must now consider climate impacts — like greenhouse gas emissions — when approving new fossil fuel projects. While they don’t have to reject projects on this basis, accounting for carbon means that the costs of these projects, socially and financially, will rise significantly.

This case is a major win for climate science and an even bigger win for kids. Long after coal barrens and Big Oil executives retire, our children and their children will be burdened by the impacts of the climate crisis. Due to their unique physiology and psychological development, children are more susceptible to the physical and mental consequences of natural disasters, extreme heat, and wildfires brought on by the climate crisis. Now, this generation is accomplishing in their first 20 years of life what Congress has failed to do for decades: Act on climate.

The Montana case also sets the stage for potential wins elsewhere. Next year, another group of youth activists will head to court to take on Hawaii’s Department of Transportation over its failure to phase out fossil fuels. The Montana case offers a shot in the arm and an acknowledgment that they have a fighting chance. Additionally, the wildfires that destroyed the town of Lahaina on the island of Maui have raised the state’s consciousness about the need to address climate change.

Where the adults fail, the kids are stepping up. Their futures are on the line, and it’s well past time that policymakers listen to children’s voices. Children’s issues cannot be left to the adults to bargain over while they suffer in silence. If these young advocates have shown us one thing, it’s this: Kids are ready to fight for their futures.