Opinions

The wait continues in Alaska’s climate case while danger grows

If you are in a hole, stop digging. The practicality of this logic is natural to most Alaskans, but unfortunately, it hasn’t been for our state’s government. With the climate crisis threatening Alaskans’ very survival, the state continues to actively promote fossil fuel extraction. It’s time for the government to put the shovel down.

It has been two long years since the Alaska Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sagoonick v. State of Alaska, a case in which I and 15 other young Alaskans are challenging the state’s policy of promoting fossil fuels, contributing to the climate crisis, and threatening our health, safety, and futures in violation of our constitutional rights. Alongside hundreds of other young people watching the court from the benches behind us and online, we made our case on why our claims should go to trial in October 2019 before Justices Daniel Winfree, Craig Stowers, Peter Maassen and Sue Carney.

Since the oral argument, we have waited for a decision on whether Alaska’s courts will be allowed to hear our case. Since then, the state has continued to worsen the climate crisis with its energy policy. Since then, we have seen how the consequences of global crises like the pandemic can ripple through Alaska, isolating our communities. We have been waiting eagerly through all of this, with the hope that the courts will be allowed to hear our case, and perhaps recognize that government policies that worsen the climate crisis directly threaten our constitutional rights.

In these two years, our communities and our futures have continued to be undermined by the changing climate. Growing ecosystem disruption in the oceans is causing the stock of king salmon in the Yukon River to dwindle, hurting villages that have depended on them for generations. More and more communities are having to face the fact that dangerous wildfires are becoming a more frequent part of our lives. The latest IPCC report makes it clear: The transition off of fossil fuels must begin immediately to prevent even more catastrophic change and preserve a livable future.

Throughout our entire lives, and continuing today, our state government has continued to actively worsen the climate crisis as a matter of official state policy.

I am 24, the oldest plaintiff in Sagoonick. Alaska’s energy policy throughout my life has been characterized by the stubborn promotion of fossil fuels in the face of science and in spite of the known threats to the lives, health and safety of my generation and future generations. Even just within these past two years, the state has maintained an insistence on foolish and harmful projects like ANWR at a time when continuing fossil fuel development threatens to put us over the brink of climate destruction.

Yet there is hope. Around the world courts are stepping up, hearing cases about the climate crisis. In Montana, as in Sagoonick, 16 youth plaintiffs are suing the state for violating their constitutional rights through a state policy of promoting fossil fuels. Last month, they secured an important victory when Judge Kathy Seeley denied the state’s attempt to prevent their case, Held v. State of Montana, from proceeding to trial. Throughout the world — in Germany, the Netherlands, Australia, France, and other countries — courts are recognizing their authority and obligation to declare whether government conduct relative to the climate crisis violates youth’s fundamental rights.

The past two years have made it clear: Our state government will stick to policies that worsen the climate crisis in spite of the consequences for our generation of Alaskans. The only thing that will compel our state to stop actively worsening the crisis is a declaration of our constitutional rights.

Griffin Plush, from Seward, serves on the board of The Alaska Center, having first gotten involved with the organization as an organizer with Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA).

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