The US’s first-ever trial in a constitutional climate lawsuit kicked off on Monday morning in a courtroom in Helena, Montana.

The case, Held v Montana, was brought in 2020 by 16 plaintiffs between the ages of five and 22 from around the state who allege state officials violated their constitutional right to a healthy environment by enacting pro-fossil fuel policies. Montana’s state constitution has since 1972 guaranteed that the “state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations.”

n opening statements, Roger Sullivan, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, explained that climate change is fueling drought, wildfires, extreme heat, and other environmental disasters throughout Montana, taking a major toll on the young plaintiffs’ health and well-being. There is a “scientific consensus,” he noted, that these changes can be traced back to the burning of fossil fuels.

He described how some plaintiffs have asthma that has been worsened by abundant wildfire smoke in recent years. Some love to hunt and fish but have seen stocks deteriorate. One plaintiff works as a ski instructor – a job threatened by warm winter temperatures and decreasing snowfall. And others are members of Indigenous tribes whose cultural practices are threatened by climate change-linked shifts in weather patterns, he said.

Montana is responsible for more planet-heating pollution than some countries, said Sullivan. Without urgent action, these climate consequences will only get worse.

But the state argued that Montana’s emissions are “too minuscule” to make any difference in the climate crisis.

“Climate change is a global issue,” Michael D Russel, assistant attorney general, said in opening remarks for the state.

Read the NY Times article here.