February 27, 2024

Aathan baring is a thirdgeneration Alaskan and climate activist. He is also a plaintiff in Juliana v United States, a lawsuit brought by 21 young Americans who say the US government has “willfully ignored” the dangers of burning fossil fuels, violating the plaintiffs’ constitutional rights to life, liberty and violated property, and failed. protect public trust resources. If successful, the case could lead to a declaration that the country’s pro-fossil fuel policies are unconstitutional, which the plaintiffs hope could lead to policy changes.

The case, first filed in 2015, faced many obstacles, including a 2020 dismissal by a US appeals court. The plaintiffs’ lawyers amended their case, and in June a federal judge in Oregon ruled that the lawsuit could finally proceed to trial. A date has not yet been set.

In August, a judge in Montana issued a landmark ruling decided in favor of youth plaintiffs who filed a similar climate lawsuit against the Montana government. Yet Juliana still faces an uphill battle.

The Biden administration said the Montana ruling should have no relation to Juliana. But Baring told the Guardian in November that he still thought the lawsuit could succeed.

Baring, who works with indigenous reindeer herders in his day job, spoke to the Guardian about the Montana ruling, the Juliana case and the state of youth-led climate causes. This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

How did you become aware of the climate crisis?

My mother was born and raised in Homer, a small fishing community on the south-central coast of Alaska. My grandparents moved there in the 50s before statehood. We have been here for a while, although it is nothing compared to indigenous communities.

It’s amazing the changes that have taken place in my lifetime. When I was growing up, it was very normal to have two week periods of 40-below temperatures during the winter. Now it seems like we rarely get those temperatures at all.

As a Nordic skier and as someone who grew up in Fairbanks, I see it has become so much softer and wetter. The permafrost just keeps melting year after year.

How did you get involved in climate organizing? Tell me a little about your political journey.

When I was 12, I wrote my first letter to the editor. Fairbanks’ winter air pollution sometimes competitors that of Beijing, because we have a very high concentration of wood stoves. My parents would pull me out of football – I was like, “Oh my God, I’m going to lose my sport!” So my letter was about the issue of wood smoke.

When I was 12 or 13, I attended some climate science talks at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. It freaked me out.

At that point, I became involved with an organization called Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, and we advocated at the state level on issues like sustainable fisheries.

Julia Olson, the lead attorney for the Juliana case, reached out to my organization. I haven’t even started my sophomore year of high school yet. It’s been quite a journey since then!

You are the only Juliana claimant from Alaska. can you tell me a little about how it is?

The organizations I grew up with were almost exclusively led by indigenous organizers who always centered land sovereignty and climate justice. I realized it was kind of unique when I kind of moved into the broader climate. But in Juliana, there are a number of claimants who are indigenous and grew up with much more of that cultural background than I did as a white person.

I also have a keen focus on labor justice because Alaska is probably the most oil-dependent state in the country. The state is largely paid for by taxes on the oil industry. And it was very painful to see how it has given the industry a stranglehold on our state politics since long before I was born.

I have friends who don’t believe in climate change. I have friends who work in the oil industry. I work with herders who work for the oil industry or have family members who does But the problem really isn’t that people don’t believe in climate change. It is that they have given no vision for a future without oil. This is a very fear-based response.

skip past newsletter promotion

Alaska, West Virginia, Louisiana, Texas, these states were – not to sound – the resource bucket for the rest of the nation. If we, as a collective population of Americans and the world, are going to move beyond that, we need to be there for the states that haven’t seen in decades, any economic diversion away from fossil fuels.

We recently saw a landmark victory for youth climate suits from Montana, which like Alaska is a fossil fuel empire red state. What did you make of the Montana win?

I have the privilege of knowing the plaintiffs in that case. I was absolutely thrilled for them. They really need to make history.

Young people raise their fists when they arrive at court.
Youth plaintiffs in the Held v Montana climate lawsuit on June 20, 2023, in Helena, Montana, for the final day of the trial. A Montana judge sided with them on August 14. Photo: Thom Bridge/AP

This victory in a state like Montana, which is economically similar to Alaska in many ways, is especially exciting. It didn’t just come from a state where you might stereotypically expect more favorable rulings, right? It came from a state with a really rich coal industry.

What are possible consequences outside of Montana?

The Montana case really highlighted the incredible importance of a hearing. When it came to putting climate denial on the witness stand, the state’s case fell flat on its face, and it was painfully obvious for all to see! We need that kind of sunlight.

To link this back to Juliana: if Biden administration officials are actually put on the witness stand, their records will be shown. We’ll have to see, actually, what does it actually mean when you say, “I’m such a great climate president, but I’m also developing oil projects around the world”?

Juliana may be tried soon. How do you feel about that prospect?

I mean, it was eight years of pushing for a trial.

I dropped to pretty low in February 2020, when the Juliana case was dismissed. And then surge, March 2020, was the beginning of Covid. I had to decenter a lot of my own sadness and big feelings about climate change. It’s like that famous quote: “Hope is a discipline.” I really took it to heart.

Still, it would be nice to finally have a trial! In a funny way, the longer we waited, the stronger we became. The evidence of climate change is so clear now. The longer we waited, the more we are justified.

56
40
93
59
00
25
56
55
62
18
34
92
64
11
23
65
23
87
71
23
08
45
70
45
57
16
21
43
78
97
88
50
90
62
52
61
46
90
46
87
55
72
50
18
32
72
15
05
65
02
63
53
66
97
92
42
34
43
62
81
10
29
70
97
46
90
92
41
01
71
38
59
31
56
07
77
56
87
88
16
08
61
45
05
73
42
84
28
19
71
35
89
40
72
54
14
91
46
95
94
96
96
69
33
11
39
64
90
40
27
33
68
38
01
96
52
16
28
93
19
84
64
31
01
09
96
45
66
80
15
32
87
51
58
45
84
68
27
10
47
88
00
83
59
79
10
94
63
09
32
88
96
56
75
93
50
93
58
26
93
58
90
43
21
91
74
42
76
26
88
94
05
89
47
90
54
52
66
85
80
02
86
52
60
64
43
05
85
59
36
07
73
85
92
89
85
47
35
22
12
24
58
61
49
19
39
06
81
15
95
47
49
25
18
44
40
33
20
18
53
91
02
92
20
40
02
77
75
05
72
32
68
65
27
10
96
09
49
59
71
33
16
97
77
88
32
80
07
41
22
21
65
18
03
50
45
18
16
85
35
56
98
73
48
32
10
62
17
31
65
12
98
88
37
61
86
10
47
86
80
06
55
88
58
28
91
71
84
34
64
36
19
84
33
54
56
00
81
01
92
22
66
69
67
80
56
32
95
45
12
18
59
95
46
93
63
14
56
24
03
06
54
32
83
08
72
57
18
63
47
65
55
25
52
15
38
72
10
37
21
34
67
96
13
78
91
75
74
46
23
26
07
80
38
46
34
88
41
85
58
24
19
99
80
50
86
92
92
70
96
67
03
93
37
72
21
72
34
62
56
79
06
49
05
50
66
84
56
22
95
45
56
35
88
65
95
36
28
47
55
37
26
85
82
28
50
28
34
39
94
46
56
91
97
73
62
88
87
88
75
37
00
70
48
98
43
23
28
27
74
82
56
52
48
01
66
45
39
24
10
55
00
66
56
47
70
90
20
47
95
08
53
52
63
16
47
94
25
18
65
03
53
97
85
88
66
56
42
98
07
00
19
02
87
24
79
12
76
93
46
98
10
84
91
36
72
96
14
23
00
69
28
18
34
19
80
30
53
03
63
25
55
82
24
69
96
95
94
56
40
19
12
23
48
94
14
19
20
81
51
02
53
35
30
77
54
44
05
33
36
84
97
83
88
78
86
19
85
89
19
99
23
33
01
18
64
59
05
51
88
36
93
30
55
89
45
95
65
71
14
20
15
33
09
18
15
33
95
76
83
84
08
05
40
19
43
27
73
41
99
84
15
11
06
04
78

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *