Alaska youth suing state over climate change to be heard in state Supreme Court

Published: Sep. 18, 2019 at 6:23 PM AKDT
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On October 9, sixteen youth suing the State of Alaska for its role in contributing to climate change and claiming their due process, equal protection, and Public Trust rights have been violated will have their case argued in the Alaska Supreme Court.

Lead plaintiff Esau Sinnok of Shishmaref has seen the impacts of a changing climate first hand. In 2016 the village voted to relocate due to erosion caused by rising sea levels. Decreased sea ice in the Chukchi Sea has made subsistence hunting and fishing difficult and transportation more dangerous.

"Since my grandfather was a boy, I used to hear stories of him telling me that the ice out there used to be as thick as a house, and that was eight to ten feet thick. Now we're lucky if we get at least five feet, and in recent years there's been more reports of people falling through the ice," Sinnok said. "With climate change it's just unpredictable now how safe the ice is and if we're able to go out on it safely and go hunting and fishing and collecting our water. It's not just a political issue to me, it's my livelihood. It's my home."

The lawsuit is supported by Our Children's Trust, which is also backing other youth-led climate actions across the country, including the high profile case Juliana v. United States.

While the Supreme Court hearing is a landmark for the youth-led environmental movement, Sinnok believes the youth will see success outside of the courtroom.

"Once these old people get out of office, not just in the State of Alaska, but also on the national level, and when the youth come up and take those position, I'm very hopeful for the future," Sinnok said. "I'm a very optimistic person. I believe that a victory for us will start with moving through a transition to a renewable energy economy, more solar panels, more wind turbines, more micro-grids in rural Alaska so that they can be powered off renewable energy instead of fossil fuels."

Other youth climate activists are planning to attend the October hearing and a press conference is scheduled to take place after the hearing.

Additionally, high school climate activists in Anchorage are leading a local event that is part international strike on climate change.

The Anchorage Youth Climate Strike is scheduled for Friday at 1:30 p.m. at Cuddy Family Midtown Park.

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