The changing climate may be a sore spot for politicians and fossil fuel companies, but to youth activists, its a call to action. When Greta Thunberg took to the steps of the Swedish Parliament to demand climate change action in line with the Paris Climate Accords from the incoming leaders, she made headlines for a few reasons. Namely, it was that she, as a freshman in high school at the time, was missing classes to strike every day prior to the election. She garnered world wide attention with her ‘truancy’, and the knee-jerk reaction of many was to dismiss her action as a means of skiving off classes and not guided by knowledge.
Since her first strikes, Greta’s platform has grown exponentially. She’s worked directly with world leaders, given a Ted talk, and even gave a speech at the UN. Many now look to Greta as the spokesperson for the youth voices advocating for climate action. But she’s not alone in her advocacy! Children everywhere are speaking out and speaking up for climate change and environmental justice. I say children because of their age, but make no mistake: these young people are wise beyond their years and fierce, headstrong advocates for their causes and the people impacted. And we so desperately need them and should elevate their platforms whenever possible.
Here’s a quick bio on some of my favorite youth activists that details their work and/or their platforms:
Isra is an American social justice advocate and a climate activist. She’s also the daughter of Ilhan Omar, U.S. Congresswoman! She was a cofounder of the US Youth Climate Strike after learning of the pipelines being built in her home state of Minnesota and the the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. She’s recently been named to Fortune’s 2020 40 under 40 Government and Politics list. With her help, the US Youth Climate Strike was one of the greatest climate strikes in world history.
Autumn is a Canadian environmental advocate. Like Greta, Autumn has also spoken at the UN to advocate for water rights and conservation. She even challenged Prime Minister Trudeau to limit the expansion of pipeline projects that directly affect Indigenous communities. Her advocacy work has led to her being named the chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation.
Helena is an Ecuadorian environmental and human rights activist. She works to advocate for Indigenous people’s justice for climate change effects brought on through deforestation and wildfires, which are the result of increased urbanization and resource exploitation in the Amazon.
Indigenous people are by and far some of the most heavily impacted populations when it comes to the increasing occurrence of climate emergencies that are a direct result of climate change. In A People’s Curriculum for the Earth, an article titled “Don’t Take Our Voices Away” by Julie O’Neill and Tim Swinehart showcases the disparity that indigenous people are facing when it comes to combating climate change. By using an immersive learning technique, students were asked to role play as different Indigenous communities and to advocate for their protection from the effects of climate change. Using the Indigenous People’s Global Summit as a guide, students learned of the threats faced by different communities and suggested means of remediation. Given that Indigenous populations make up 6% of the global population, their underrepresentation in climate crisis discussions are striking, and the students worried that their voices would not be enough to affect impactful change. While that may be the case now, the fact remains that their voices are invaluable in surmounting the climate crisis.
As the summit statement says, “The world desperately needs the wisdom of Indigenous perspectives, perhaps now more than ever. Because of our long cultural and spiritual connection to the land, oceans, and wildlife, Indigenous peoples have a lot to offer the rest of the world as it considers how best to deal with with climate crisis.” They call for several conditions to be met, including delivery of reparations for climate disasters past and present, an end to land exploitations and resource extraction by corporations, and a return of native lands so that they may be properly preserved. Two of the youth activists I mentioned are very active in Indigenous rights, and with their advocacy comes a long silenced voice for their marginalized communities.
The young activists are the future. The students in classrooms that are learning about the impacts of the climate crisis will be the ones to inherit them, so it follows that they SHOULD be mad. They should be loud and adamant and, yes, they should skip school to go to a protest. Because why are we teaching them if its not to inspire them to change the world? Since we are letting them down and stealing their future with every second of our inaction, our complacency, and our indifference, they have every right to stand up and speak out. They see our inaction. We will be held equally culpable with corporations and governments one day. Whether that happens by people or by the Earth once we have tipped the scales too far to be corrected remains to be seen, but once we have passed the point of no return, which is so much closer than you think, we will be in serious trouble.
And we will deserve it.
My only hope is that students who see what is happening and have responses like the poem below, from the same article in A People’s Curriculum, will be in charge because, with this level of compassion, no one will be left aside.
The quietest voices
Have the loudest meaning
Every word said is like
It sends a big movement
It moves the biggest barriers down
It can open a new state of mind.
The quietest voices
Can join and become
A million voices.
For what we say can
Be pushed aside
But when we come together,
We are heard
We do count
We are ready to stand up
We won’t take no for an answer
We will speak until
Everyone hears us
We will not be quiet anymore
We are important
We do count.
Don’t take our voices away.
Check out this article to learn about more youth activists: https://www.cnn.com/2019/09/28/world/youth-environment-activists-greta-thunberg-trnd/index.html
Check out this one to read more about getting involved in climate change activism: https://www.climategen.org/take-action/act-climate-change/take-action/
And, most importantly, VOTE! You can shout into the void all you want to, but unless you elect officials who will advocate for your cause, your shouts will drift uselessly off into black, uncharted space–much like Kira Navarez in To Sleep in a Sea of Stars… So, get all sorts of voting details here: https://www.usa.gov/how-to-vote
Get to work. Do something.
This post meets the requirements for assignment 3 for ESS210.