Meet students who are pushing Legislature to adopt Green Amendment

Members of New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition are following lead of their peers around U.S.

The Green Amendment, a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would give all New Jersey citizens the basic environmental rights to clear air, clean water, a stable climate and a healthy environment, could be a gateway that creates a variety of new environmental actions.

That it has strong support from students likely won’t surprise you.

Here’s what will: How much students in New Jersey are doing to help get it passed.

Nationwide, students are proving to be an essential voice in the ever-evolving discussion of climate change. In Montana, a group filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s energy policy — the first children’s climate trial in U.S. history.

In New Jersey, students across the state have formed the New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition, a group of over 500 middle-, high-school and college-age students that is fighting for the Green Amendment and other environmentally friendly actions by petitioning, posting and lobbying legislators and the public.

Members of the New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition at an event.

“As with all of my generation, I have grown up in an ever-changing climate,” Margaret Berei, co-coordinator of the Green Amendment Team in the NJSSC and a student at Mountain Lakes High School, said. “It’s horrifying to not even know what to expect from your summers, your winters and the in-between.

“Surrounded by change, the Green Amendment is a glimmer of security and consistency. Encoded in the constitution, a Green Amendment would provide us with something long-with-standing, graspable and protective, just what we need in times of uncertainty.

“It gives us a starting place that will continue to be a positive force for good for generations.”

NJSSC’s Green Amendment Team is one of the many youth groups across the country that are fighting for this amendment. The team attended a Youth Voices for a Green Amendment virtual news conference during the pandemic and, last summer, attended the New Jersey Green Amendment Press Conference, where New Jersey’s justice activists, legislators and environmental leaders gathered to discuss what the Green Amendment means for the future.

The group is closely following the actions other states are taking.

Pennsylvania, Montana and New York all have passed a Green Amendment, with New York being the latest to do so, in November 2021. New York’s law provides climate and environmental justice advocates with new grounds for bringing about the changes they seek.

These follow pushes around the country by grassroots efforts to try and get beneficial climate legislation passed on the state and local levels. So far, their efforts have been providing real results.

In Montana, for example, with the help of the Green Amendment, 16 youth plaintiffs filed their climate lawsuit in 2020. The students asserted the state’s support of an energy system driven by fossil fuels was violating their rights to a clean environment and demanded that the state develop a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

About the author

Shreya Birudavolu is a junior at Montgomery High School who is passionate about preserving the environment. Starting out as a member of her school’s environmental club, she later joined the New Jersey Student Sustainability Coalition, which has fueled her passion for student-led environmental activism. She believes that spreading information about environmental issues through social media and journalism is immensely important. She is an editor of both her school’s newspaper and literary magazine.

The suit, Held vs. Montana, is scheduled to be heard at the 1st Judicial District Court in Helena, Montana, next June.

NJSSC members feel the ability for students to be able to bring this case in the first place is a success — one that may provide a roadmap for other student groups in other states.

In New Jersey, the current push is to pass the Green Amendment, a bill first introduced in 2019. The bill has picked up numerous sponsors — and has been proposed during the current legislative session — but it has not yet been acted upon, an Assembly spokesperson said.

Priyansh Shrivastava, the lobbying coordinator of the Green Amendment Team in the NJSSC and a student at Rutgers Preparatory School, said he remains hopeful.

“We are very close to getting this bill passed, because we have a majority of co-sponsors and a lot of people who really want this bill to be seen, heard and passed,” he said. “If we get a little more support from legislators and people, I am confident we can get the Green Amendment passed into legislation.”

Students feel the Green Amendment can change the environmental activist world as we know it, strengthening the movement for environmental justice by creating a duty to supply all communities with these necessities. It would provide protection against particularly debilitating decisions, they feel. And it would reinforce a call to action to not only government officials, but the people of each state — starting with students.