Climate Scientist Not Surprised Anti-Fossil Fuel Group Who Uses Children Won Montana Court Case

Climate Scientist Dr. Judith Curry said an anti-fossil organization that uses children in lawsuits will try to replicate the Montana court victory all over the country, which will waste states’ resources on legal proceedings. 

August 15, 20236 min read

Supporters gather at a theater next to the courthouse to watch the court proceedings for the nation's first youth climate change trial at Montana's First Judicial District Court in Helena, Montana.
Supporters gather at a theater next to the courthouse to watch the court proceedings for the nation's first youth climate change trial at Montana's First Judicial District Court in Helena, Montana. (William Campbell, Getty Images)

A Montana state court decided Monday in favor of 16 young plaintiffs who sued the state of Montana, claiming their constitutional rights to a clean and healthy environment are being violated because the state doesn’t allow for consideration of greenhouse gasses when it permits fossil fuel development projects. 

Climate scientist Dr. Judith Curry, president and co-owner of Climate Forecast Application Network, told Cowboy State Daily she saw the decision coming. 

“Well, I'm not surprised by the verdict,” Curry said. “The judge seemed biased in this direction.” 

Montana hired Curry to be an expert witness in the case, but the state decided at the last minute not to call her. 

Emotional Pleas 

The young plaintiffs were represented by Our Children’s Trust, an anti-fossil fuel nonprofit that uses children in lawsuits around the country in an effort to stop fossil fuel production. 

The Montana Constitution guarantees a healthy environment, but state law bars agencies from considering any action outside the state of Montana when issuing permits for fossil fuel projects, including the impacts of global greenhouse gasses. 

That law, the plaintiffs argue, is in conflict with the state’s constitutional guarantees for a healthy environment. 

Among the injuries the plaintiffs alleged were caused by the state permitting fossil fuel projects included a reduced amount of snow, which undermined one young person’s ability to enjoy skiing. 

Another plaintiff is a musician who often performs outdoors, but he claimed wildfires impeded his ability to perform music outdoors. 

Another plaintiff claimed his allergies were caused by Montana permitting fossil fuel projects. 

Throughout the plaintiffs’ allegations are claims of “trauma,” “emotional burden” and “distress.” 

In her ruling, Judge Kathy Seely said that, “Montana’s emissions and climate change have been proven to be a substantial factor in causing climate impacts to Montana’s environment and harm and injury.”

Not A Fact

Rep. Harriet Hageman, R-Wyoming, told Cowboy State Daily she’s surprised that Seely included that remark in her ruling. 

“How can she prove such a statement is true, let alone include it in her opinion? This is not a statement of fact. It is her liberal view of the world,” Hageman said. 

Hageman was a litigator for 34 years. In her career, she took on a lot of cases involving federal overreach, protecting water rights and users, and protecting private property rights. 

“I would challenge Judge Seeley to offer even one piece of evidence that these youths have been harmed or that Montana’s emissions have been a contributing factor to any so-called climate change,” Hageman said. 

Good Weather Now

Curry said the verdict presents several dangers, as it rests on the false premise that the state of Montana can guarantee a stable climate for its residents, something that has never existed.

“Montana's climate and extreme weather was much worse in the 1930s, when fossil emissions were a minimal factor. It canonizes the rather ludicrous idea that bad weather can be prevented by eliminating fossil fuel emissions, which is at odds with the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Reports,” Curry said. 

The IPCC is a consortium of the world’s leading climate scientists. The group’s assessment reports contain extensive research into the impacts of climate change. 

Curry said that the decision also reflects a naivete about the feasibility of rapidly eliminating fossil fuels and replacing them with wind and solar. 

So far, no population of any meaningful size has succeeded in replacing its electricity grid entirely with wind and solar power, much less powered factories and transportation needs with renewables. 

Leaving Out Voters

Many critics say that Our Children’s Trust is using the court system to enact policy change without having to go through state legislatures. This effectively leaves voters with no say in the process. 

“The legal system is not the place to address concerns about climate change. The political system and legislative branch is where such deliberations should occur,” Curry said. 

It’s quite likely, Curry said, that Our Children’s Trust will now try to replicate this victory all over the country, which she said will waste other states’ resources on legal proceedings. 

Rep. Cyrus Western, R-Big Horn, told Cowboy State Daily this will embolden even more legal actions by groups that want to stop fossil fuels, which provide 82% of the world’s energy. 

“The left has realized they can weaponize courts against the fossil fuel industry,” Western said. “I think this decision is absolutely concerning.” 

Rick Whitbeck, Alaska state director for Power the Future — an energy advocacy group that does work in Wyoming and across the West — told Cowboy State Daily that the case was one of an activist judge using her position to create chaos. 

“This decision is all about pushing an agenda that — aside from being based on all fear and no facts — will jeopardize thousands of Montana jobs and ripple through the rest of the country, doing immense damage,” Whitbeck said. 

State Will Appeal

Emily Flower, a spokesperson for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, told The Washington Post that Montana will appeal to the state’s Supreme Court. 

Hageman said that regardless of the outcome of the appeal, the case will be inspirational for those who want to deprive the U.S. of fossil fuels. 

“I would expect a more reasoned and responsible court to overturn this ridiculous ruling,” Hageman said. “But even if they do, there is a damaging precedent that will embolden other climate activists to bring suits around the country.”

She said that it’s important that people impacted by this ruling, which is anyone who uses energy, continue to fight back. 

“We cannot allow the activists to determine American energy policy,” she said. “We already have radical ‘Green Bad Deal’ believers in the Biden administration who are doing enough damage.”

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