Athlete testifies in Montana climate change trial about using an inhaler due to smoke from forest fires

During the climate change trial in Montana, one of the high school athletes among the group of 16 plaintiffs testified on Tuesday that he faced breathing issues while competing due to increased smoke from forest fires, and had to resort to using an inhaler prescribed by his doctor.

At the Montana climate change trial, Mica Kantor, who is now 15 years old, testified that he has been concerned about climate change since he was a 4-year-old, when he dictated a letter to Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. due to his inability to write. Mica expressed that it has now become more challenging for him to go on hikes or run, and that the snowboarding seasons have shortened due to warmer weather conditions.

On the second day of the landmark trial in Montana, Mica, along with 15 other young residents of the state, testified that the government has failed to maintain a clean environment thereby violating their constitutional rights. They are urging the judge to declare a state law as unconstitutional, which restricts agencies from assessing the impact of greenhouse gases when issuing permits for fossil fuel development.

Montana state officials have attempted to diminish the state’s involvement in global warming, as the ongoing trial sets the stage for potential legal precedents. The plaintiffs’ lawyers presented pictures of Mica participating in demonstrations centered around climate change, which were held at his school, the state’s public utility, and the local courthouse.

Mica stated that his aim was to raise awareness about climate change and to spur action, as raising public consciousness is the initial step to prompting change.

Mica expressed that thinking about climate change sometimes makes it tough for him to fall asleep at night, and that he desires the state to inaugurate measures that promise a brighter future. He also recited a poem that he wrote, in which he recalled being trapped in the basement of his home when his family was infected with COVID-19, and the air outdoors was too hazy. In his poem, he inquired why nobody was paying heed to climate change and whether they cared.

During the hearing, the state chose not to cross-examine Mica or the other witness, Badge Busse, who is also 15 years old. Additionally, the state did not quiz the three young plaintiffs who testified earlier on Monday.

On Tuesday, Badge also testified that climate change can impose limits on his outdoor pursuits such as downhill skiing, hunting, and fishing. He talked about a time when a forest fire threatened to engulf his home, necessitating an evacuation, and said that he found it to be one of the most frightening experiences of his life.

Badge recounted that during the forest fire, his mother collected baby books while he gathered some of his prized possessions, and they were forced to prepare to leave their cherished home. Thankfully, he stated, they did not have to flee the scene.

Dr. Lori Byron, a pediatrician from Crow Agency, testified on the physical and psychological effects of climate change on children, stating that several of the plaintiffs have asthma or other breathing complications. Multiple plaintiffs have disclosed that the heat and smoke caused by climate change can make them feel depressed and anxious.

Dr. Lori Byron declared that children are more vulnerable to high temperatures, fires, smoke, and severe weather conditions as their brains and bodies are still in the developmental stage, and they inhale at a faster rate than adults. She further stated that child athletes are more ambitious and persistent in participating in sports, even if it is dangerous for them due to the influence of smoke or heat.

Earlier in the second day of the Montana climate change trial, retired Montana State University professor and climate scientist, Cathy Whitlock, testified about the consequences of climate change. She highlighted that if fossil fuels continue to be burned at the current rate, the number of days with temperatures above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) will multiply resulting in an increased number of “fire weather days” where hot, dry, gusty conditions will make it effortless for fires to start and burn rapidly. In addition, she stated that by 2050, the number of days where wildfire smoke will obstruct healthy breathing will increase.

Whitlock also pointed out that the frequency of days with temperatures dropping below freezing will continue to diminish. Additionally, she mentioned that the amount of precipitation has been escalating in both spring and fall, with instances of spring rains falling on snow and causing rapid melting leading to floods, as witnessed in Yellowstone National Park and the adjoining region last year. To prevent abrupt seasonal shifts, Cathy Whitlock urged the necessity of diminishing the burning of fossil fuels at the earliest.

Whitlock emphasized that climate change held some benefits, like an extended growing season and the possibility of cultivating new crops such as cantaloupes that were not earlier grown in the northwestern part of Montana. However, the downfalls, including severe weather conditions and the escalation of droughts, outweigh these positives as evidenced by the Montana flash drought during 2017, resulting in a record-breaking wildfire season, significant crop losses totaling $2.6 billion, and smoke in a western Montana valley persisting for weeks.

During the proceedings, Thane Johnson, the Montana state attorney asked Whitlock whether eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in Montana would have a substantial impact on the global climate scenario. To which, Whitlock responded that every ton of CO2 expelled into the atmosphere contributes to global warming. Nevertheless, she stated that she was not an expert and hence could not precisely determine the impact of such a move.

Carbon dioxide is generated when fossil fuels are burnt, and it consumes heat within the atmosphere resulting in the climate’s warming, it is also a major contributor to climate change. Recently, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration reported that the carbon dioxide levels in the air this spring have reached the highest they have been in more than 4 million years. In addition, greenhouse gas emissions reached their highest levels last year, according to the International Energy Agency.

Johnson acknowledged that Electric Tractors are not yet available for farmers, and electric vehicle charging stations are not accessible in rural Montana to enable the residents to reduce their dependence on fossil fuels.