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Kids of the Future, for the Future

The thought of being outside this summer was exhausting for me. I completely gave up my daily walks and I dreaded having to walk to the car during the excruciating 100+ degree heat Austin, TX had for over 40 days in a row. This was a huge change for me, since I’ve looked forward to spending summers outside for the last 25 years. It should be no surprise that this was the hottest July Earth has ever seen. Huge wildfires devastated Maui, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, and Ontario. Both events are largely due to carbon in the atmosphere from years of fossil fuel production. The extreme weather we’re experiencing is not normal. The climate is changing at a rapid and scary pace, with more intense natural disasters happening each year – our planet is turning into a place that is not a clean or sustainable environment to live in anymore. I’m not alone in recognizing this scary change. Gen Z and Gen Alpha are going to court demanding the right to a clean environment – and they’re winning.

This summer, a group of kids ages 5-22 sued Montana in one of the first climate activism cases brought to trial, Held v. Montana. The state constitution reads “the state and each person shall maintain and improve a clean and healthful environment in Montana for present and future generations,” so they argued that their constitutional right to a clean environment was violated by the state aggressively pursuing fossil fuel deals without taking future impacts to the climate into consideration. Youth witnesses testified that children are more susceptible to climate-induced physical and psychological harm, and I don’t blame them. How can you be optimistic about your future when you are either personally experiencing or consuming media about climate-induced life-threatening natural disasters on a monthly, if not weekly, basis? Judge Kathy Seeley agreed, saying “Because of their unique vulnerabilities, their stages of development as youth, and their average longevity on the planet in the future, plaintiffs face lifelong hardships resulting from climate change.” In the end, Judge Seely ruled in their favor, rejecting the state’s argument that their contributions to climate change were minimal compared to other sources.

The Held vs. Montana case and the ruling in the youth’s favor hold significant weight for the future of climate activism. The plaintiffs, many of whom aren’t even of voting age yet, have standing in court. If you didn’t go to law school, standing “requires the parties bringing the lawsuit to demonstrate they are the appropriate parties to bring the case in front of the court.” In other words, plaintiffs must declare a personal stake in the outcome to guarantee the dispute can also be presented in an adversary context. Having standing means youth hold real legal weight surrounding the issue of climate change and can take legal action on their right to a clean future that hasn’t even happened yet.

And Held v. Montana isn’t the only climate-related case – in 2015, the currently pending Juliana v. United States case sought to establish a habitable environment as a constitutionally protected right, while other climate cases have come up in Florida, Utah, and Virginia. Hawaii youth are also suing the state’s Department of Transportation, with the trial set for next summer. These lawsuits show that kids are not only realizing what the reality of their future could look like without action but also that they will continue to take action in attempts to help the outcome of their future.

The climate lawsuit trends are telling in terms of the lengths the younger generations are willing to go to protect their future. Note to utility companies: these are your future customers. Gen Z/Alpha are acting with full force to hold climate wrongdoers accountable and it’s not something utilities, corporations, or governments can ignore anymore by going about business as usual. The generation who will be most impacted by climate change is taking these issues to court and winning.

So, how can you, as a utility, be proactive in giving the future generation what they want in terms of climate action? It’s clear younger generations are willing to act on saving the planet, and utilities provide a great path to help them do so. Your future customers are a generation who are taking state governments to court because they’re so displeased with their inaction on climate change. It’s time to engage with them! They want to engage with you and hear from you about what they can do, but also what you’re doing to help the climate. They will look to you to participate in programs, services, rebates, etc. offered for them to act in their own homes. They will also want you to be open and transparent about how you’re acting on climate issues before they make you. It’s fair to expect them to hold you accountable if they’re not satisfied with how you’re protecting their future – climate lawsuits are proof.

AIQUEOUS, Apogee and energyOrbit provide you with fantastic tools to engage and enroll your customers in climate action, whether through energy efficiency, decarbonization, renewable energy, water efficiency or resilience. Reach out to us today on how you can engage GenZ / Alpha to shape your future.

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