Maine Youth Fight for Environmental Protection

Oct 22, 2018

Growing up on a tiny island off the coast of Maine, Lucia Daranyi noticed the increase of trash and the snow still melting far into spring.  However, it was when her 6th grade science teacher focused her on the “big problems” that her passion for protecting the environment came out. 

Today, her big problem is the state government. Daranyi, 16, works with Our Children’s Trust, an Oregon-based nonprofit, in her home state. She, along with several other youth, spoke to change a 2003 Maine law that entitles the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “sufficient to eliminate any dangerous threat to the climate.” However the goals have not been met and as a youth activist, Datanyi doesn’t think Maine is doing enough. 

Her inspiration in the environmental protection movement came from other Our Children’s Trust cases, including Juliana v United States, a landmark federal court case originating in Oregon. This case includes 21 youth plaintiffs, who took action to sue the federal government for infringing on their 5th Amendment constitutional rights. The unprecedented case, which was originally filed in 2015, will take their three year fight to the next level in late October. Even from 3,000 miles away the actions of the youth inspired Lucia to fight for for life, liberty, and property in the Pine Tree state. 

“Youth are realizing more and more that the government is not protecting their best interest.” said Nate Bellinger, a staff attorney at Our Children’s Trust. “I think youth are realizing that the evidence is overwhelming so they are filing lawsuits and petitions. Youth are demanding action in cities, towns and schools, realizing they need to take matters into their own hands.” 

The petition he speaks of was filed in January of 2018 to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, asking for more protection of Maine’s future, more specifically to change a law that has been ineffective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 

The law in question included three goals. The first goal was met by the state in 2010, and Maine is on track to meet the mid-term goal of decreasing emissions 10 percent below 1990 levels by 2020. However the last, long-term goal of reducing emissions 75-80 percent below peak 2003 levels is challenging, says Elizabeth Valentine, the lawyer who drafted the petition submitted in January 2018. 

“The state was able to meet the short term goal and is likely to meet the mid-term goal without really changing ‘business as usual. To achieve the long term goal, it will require structural change in how we produce and use energy. It is not an easy fix and will require concerted effort by all sectors of society.” 

The last goal would require a “wholesale rethinking of how we generate and use energy,” Valentine said. The petitioners want the DEP to implement the law by adopting policies and rules that would make the goal achievable. This would include investing in more renewable energy, energy storage, and environmentally friendly infrastructure. Policies would also need to be revised or created to put the goal within reach. However, this is costly and would need support of the public. 

Although 3 out of 4 of Mainers support political action to “reduce global warming pollution dramatically by 2030,” according to a poll conducted by Natural Resource Council of Maine, a public hearing was still in order. The hearing was held on May 15 in Augusta, Maine, where seven youth activists, ranging from grades 3-12, added to the commentators. 

“Absolutely nobody wants to listen to another crusty old man. If a child can come to you and speak so passionately and so eloquently, why wouldn’t you listen?”

Truttling was a master of ceremony at the Augusta event and calls the experience “so humbling and so inspiring, to see kids younger than me standing up against climate change.” 

One of the youth who spoke was Phoebe MacDonald, a bubbly, knowledgeable incoming 3rd grader at Ocean Avenue Elementary. At a recent event in Portland, she advocated for sustainable straw alternatives. 

“I hope plastic will be banned from Portland and other parts of Maine,” said Phoebe. “And other parts of America will have gotten the signal by then. There needs to be less plastic in the ocean. It’s just really not right that there are large groups of plastic, it’s not natural.” 

Even though Phoebe can’t vote, she said she believes anyone can be a leader in the environmental movement. 

This belief of youth using their voices and “take action for us” is echoed in Hunter Lachance, an incoming sophomore at Kennebunk High School who also spoke at the hearing. He also encompasses the youth’s goal to change their future for the better by taking charge of a nationwide movement and getting the word out. 

As Phoebe and Hunter show, among countless others, youth are stepping up to grow support for the land they will inherit. By joining organizations and being politically active they are growing support as well as membership. Citizens Climate Lobby, a nonprofit grassroots advocacy group, counts over 750 youth involved with their organization. With the next generation being so involved with protecting their futures, there is hope. 

“I just hope to make the smallest impact, I want to be able to say that I didn’t stand idly by while our world was being pulled apart.” 

Lydia Valentine is a student at Gorham High School and is a regular contributor to Raise Your Voice. She produced this piece at the Institute of Environmental Journalism in New York City.

Elizabeth Valentine, quoted in the article, is the writer's mother.