Alaska teens petition for statewide climate change policy

The Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, Alaska has been rapidly shrinking over the past 30 years. The latest National Climate Assessment predicts that by 2050, Alaska's average annual temperatures will be 2 to 4 degrees higher than what they were from 1971 to 1999.

ANCHORAGE — A group of Alaska teenagers has sent a petition to the state’s environmental agency in hopes of tightening climate change policy.

The teens’ petition calls for the state to reduce carbon emissions, monitor the greenhouse gasses it does emit and come up with a strategy for the future, Alaska’s Energy Desk reported ( Monday.

The group, named Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, hand-delivered the petition in August to the Department of Environmental Conservation’s commissioner, Larry Hartig.

The petition follows a 2011 climate change lawsuit filed by a different group of Alaska teens, which made it all the way to the state Supreme Court before justices ruled that it was a matter for the executive or legislative branch.

Brad DeNoble, a lawyer from Eagle River who helped craft both the lawsuit and the current petition, said the state could be obligated to do more to address climate change under a common law with ancient roots that is called the public trust doctrine.

“Certain resources are essentially so important to society that they have to be protected,” DeNoble said. “They’re incapable of private ownership.”


Seb Kurland, 17, is among the teens fighting for climate change policy. Kurland said she has noticed the landscape around her hometown of Juneau looks different than it did not that long ago — especially because the Mendenhall Glacier is shrinking.

“You know, one of the hard things especially about being a teenager with these concerns is that you don’t feel like you can do anything about it,” Kurland said. “Basically what we’re saying with this petition is, ‘Hey you’re not doing that!’ ”

The state has until Sep. 29 to respond to the petition. Officials can reject it or call a public hearing.

Young people in other parts of the country have tried to pressure governments on their climate change policies as well. In Oregon, 21 young Americans filed a lawsuit against the Obama administration claiming their rights have been violated because the federal government has allowed greenhouse gas pollution to be pumped into the atmosphere for 50 years, despite knowing the risks.