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Alaska’s government has a duty to protect our future

  • Author: Esau Sinnok
    | Opinion
    , Liszka Bessenyey
    | Opinion
  • Updated: 3 days ago
  • Published 3 days ago

Alaska Supreme Court on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016. (Bill Roth / Alaska Dispatch News)

As the skies over our state fill with smoke from wildfires, our glaciers disappear and our coasts are inundated by rising seas, the Alaska government continues to prioritize fossil fuel development over our generation’s safety. We cannot allow the state to continue to sustain the climate crisis at the expense of our futures, our cultures and our rights.

That is why we are suing the state of Alaska for contributing to the climate crisis in the Sinnok v. State of Alaska constitutional climate lawsuit. With 14 of our peers, we are working to hold the state accountable for its contribution to the uncertainty hanging over our futures. Instead of studying for exams and hanging out with friends at college, we prepared for a hearing that could change the future of our state.

Having watched our villages swallowed by the ocean and our winters shorten — all the while seeing our state pursue policies that blindly promote fossil fuels with no regard for our future — we realized that we would have to fight to protect our generation’s collective future. Upon joining this lawsuit, we learned about the unique and personal ways that countless other young people are experiencing the impacts of climate change across the state. Our co-plaintiffs in this case have felt the severe effects of the climate crisis firsthand: from massive salmon die-offs due to warming waters, to the increasingly frequent wildfires burning across the state. It is clear, no one is safe from the impacts of climate breakdown.

This lawsuit is our last resort, as we have tried repeatedly to get our state to recognize its duty to protect our futures. Before filing our case, through a petition for rule-making, we asked the state of Alaska to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at rates consistent with global reductions that science tells us are necessary to avert catastrophic change to our climate. The state refused, thus confirming their commitment to the current energy policy of prioritizing fossil fuels over our future — a future with a safe climate and a government that supports our constitutional rights.

The stakes have never been higher for our generation and most other Alaskans. We may have grown up with snow, but our future will be consumed by smoke if the state continues to put oil exploration over our livelihood. This is why we are asking, not for money, but for Alaska’s courts to determine whether the state’s energy policy violates our constitutional rights to life, liberty, property, and equal protection under the law. Our generation stands to be the most impacted by the effects of the climate crisis, and it has fallen on us to fight against those in power who continue to maintain it. That is why millions of youth took to the streets last month for the Global Climate Strike, to demand justice for our generation.

While our critics use the argument that we are “just kids," youth have often been at the front of social movements. We are able to clearly see the injustices accepted as normal by adults, and we are often impacted disproportionately by these same injustices. The climate crisis is no different. Climate change was not caused by the lifestyle choices of individuals in my generation, or of those in any generation, but rather by government policies, like the state of Alaska’s systemic policy of promoting fossil fuels.

The state has tried to prevent us from speaking our truths in court, but we have persisted in our fight. We will not allow our claims to be swept under the rug. We will not let our voices be silenced. This week, our case had a hearing in front of the Supreme Court of Alaska. This hearing will determine the future of our case, and potentially our lives. We encourage you to show your support for our fight to protect our constitutional rights and our collective future.

Our generation is speaking up against these injustices. Will you listen?

Esau Sinnok and Liszka Bessenyey, both college students, are Alaska residents and plaintiffs in Sinnok v. State of Alaska.

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