Ava Lazar was 11 years old when she made her first climate documentary.
“When I was little, my older sister was very concerned about climate change, and I didn’t really know what it was,” said Lazar. “But she was so worried and so afraid and had so much anxiety that transferred over to me and I started worrying about it.”
Six years after that film was made in 2005, Lazar is now part a group that has sued Virginia for its role in the nation’s climate crisis. This case is one of many nationwide lawsuits in which youth are taking to court to combat climate change.
“Most of us are below 18. I am only 17 years old. Ava said that she doesn’t have any other means of expressing her opinion than the court. “Just the realization that it is possible for me to sue Virginia. It’s happening in other States too, which was reassuring.”
Although the Virginia case was filed in February and is still in its infancy but others are breaking through the legal barrier. Officials in Held v. State of Montana have scheduled a trial for February 6, 2023. It is the first case of this type to be assigned a date in the United States. After the state of Montana’s motion to dismiss was rejected by a district judge, this is now.
Montana youth claim that state lawmakers have repeatedly prioritized fossil fuel infrastructures and profits over their future. They claim that the state’s actions violate their constitutional right to a safe and healthy environment.
“As a parent, you know, having our kids basically fix what we have screwed up, in the true way that it can happen is a real point of pride for us,” said Sarah Busse, the parent of two Montana youth plaintiffs. “But also a point of like, we messed up, so they’re fixing it?”
Youth activists across the nation say they see the devastating consequences of climate changes and know that waiting to see government action is not an option.
Grace Gibson-Snyder (age 18), a plaintiff in the Montana case, stated that teens often feel obligated.
Gibson-Snyder was raised in Missoula, Montana. This gave her a strong connection to the natural environment and inspired her to become involved.
Badge Busse and Lander Busse, two brothers from Kalispell Montana, have already seen the effects of climate change. Due to wildfire smoke, they have had to stay at school and watched their favorite hobby, skiing, change before their eyes.
“I was sitting on the chairlift with my coach and we were talking about how when he has his kids, or when I have my kids, they’re not going to be able to ski on like actual snow … which kind of broke my heart because I love skiing,” said 14-year-old Badge Busse.
He said, “I would love to share it with mine and their children.” It’s unlikely that this will happen, but I feel it might.
They hope to be plaintiffs in the Montana case and a part of a nationwide push for legal remedies, regardless what the outcome of their case.
“We don’t expect to solve all of Montana’s pollution problems immediately. Lander Busse said that they are hoping to be a catalyst to hopefully these things.
This movement is gaining momentum with two youth cases filed this year and two more in the pipeline for the summer.
Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based firm that files many of these cases has additional lawsuits in Alaska and North Carolina, North Carolina, Utah, as well as a federal case called Juliana v. United States.
The Juliana case was dismissed by a federal court, which said the remedy the plaintiffs sought was beyond the scope of the law cited, adding that the plaintiffs’ case “must be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large.” The firm has since filed an amended lawsuit and hopes to have a trial in this case by the end of the year or early next. This could be crucial in the firm’s fight to turn symbolic victories into legal ones.
“I believe all of these cases can be won if we can get them to trial. Julia Olson is the executive director of Our Children’s Trust and chief legal counsel.
The Montana state constitution clearly states that “every person and the state shall maintain and improve a healthy environment in Montana for future generations.” This clause is believed to be the key to a legal victory by the plaintiffs.
It remains to be seen if that will happen. The state of Montana claimed that the plaintiffs’ injuries were not caused by the statutes it seeks to invalidate.
“These lawsuits were very successful in bringing attention to the climate crisis and in obtaining court orders affirming the problem’s nature. They have not yet led to binding orders that require action. “Maybe the Montana case will prove to be the first,” Michael Gerrard, director of Columbia’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law, said.
Young Americans looking to pursue these lawsuits often get in touch with Our Children’s Trust through a network of youth environmental organizations. The two sides can then have a conversation about whether or otherwise the individual is a good fit for a case.
Our Children’s Trust and youth plaintiffs have teamed together to argue that other state constitutions and the United States provide the legal backing they need in order to win cases across the nation. It’s about showing others who aren’t eligible to vote that they shouldn’t be stopped from making their voices heard.
Lander Busse doesn’t see any uniqueness in who he is or what he and brother have become. He says, “We’re just some children from northwest Montana who wanted something and got an opportunity to do it.” That is what it means. [other kids]Should be able to make an impact as well.”
One of the defendants in Montana’s case was the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. When ABC News contacted them, they said that they would not comment on ongoing litigation. The defendants in Virginia pleaded “sovereign immunity,” which protects states from liability for alleged wrongdoing. The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality declined comment.
ABC News reached out to all other defendants in Montana and Virginia for comment.