Young environmental activists prevail in first-of-its-kind climate change trial in Montana

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. score / skɔr / (v.) – to achieve success in something

    He scored his first acting award in his third movie.

  2. precedent / ˈprɛs ɪ dənt / (n.) – an official action or decision that was done in the past that can be used to support later actions or decisions

    The judge used last year’s similar case as a precedent for his decision in this year’s case.

  3. exacerbate / ɪgˈzæs ərˌbeɪt / (v.) – to make something even worse than it currently is

    He quickly thought of a solution because he didn’t want to exacerbate the issue.

  4. emeritus / ɪˈmɛr ɪ təs / (adj.) – occupying the mentioned job or position in the past

    The professor emeritus, who retired last year after 30 years of service, gave a speech during the graduation.

  5. abide by (something) / əˈbaɪd baɪ / (phrasal v.) – to accept or follow something such as an agreement, decision, or rule

    The company needs to abide by the law to avoid penalties.


Read the text below.

Young environmental activists scored what experts described as a ground-breaking legal victory when a Montana judge said state agencies were violating their constitutional right to a clean and healthful environment by allowing fossil fuel development.

The ruling in this first-of-its-kind trial in the U.S. adds to a small number of legal decisions around the world that have established a government duty to protect citizens from climate change. If it stands, the ruling could set an important legal precedent, though experts said the immediate impacts are limited and state officials pledged to seek to overturn the decision on appeal.

District Court Judge Kathy Seeley found the policy the state uses in evaluating requests for fossil fuel permits — which does not allow agencies to look at greenhouse gas emissions — is unconstitutional. It marks the first time a U.S. court has ruled against a government for violating a constitutional right based on climate change, said Harvard Law School Professor Richard Lazarus.

The judge rejected the state’s argument that Montana’s emissions are insignificant, saying they were “a substantial factor” in climate change. Montana is a major producer of coal burned for electricity and has large oil and gas reserves. “Every additional ton of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions exacerbates plaintiffs’ injuries and risks locking in irreversible climate injuries,” Seeley wrote.

“The ruling really provides nothing beyond emotional support for the many cases seeking to establish a public trust right, human right or a federal constitutional right” to a healthy environment, said James Huffman, dean emeritus at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland.

Claire Vlases was 17 years old when she became a plaintiff in the case. Now 20 and working as a ski instructor, she said climate change hangs over every aspect of her life. “I think a lot of young people feel really helpless, especially when it comes to the future,” Vlases said, adding that she expects Montana lawmakers to respect the state’s constitution and abide by the court’s decision. “Hopefully this is one for history,” she said.

This article was provided by The Associated Press.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

  • In your opinion, how important is the legal victory for young environmental activists and the fight against climate change? Do you think it will set an important legal precedent? Why or why not? Discuss.
  • What causes do you think young activists in your country should fight for (ex. protecting endangered species, preserving arts and culture)? Why? Discuss.

Discussion B

  • Claire Vlases hopes that the legal victory achieved by young environmental activists is one for history. Why do you think she feels this way? Discuss.
  • Do you agree with Vlases’ statement that a lot of young people feel really helpless, especially when it comes to the future? Do you think this is true for many young people in your country? Why or why not? Discuss.