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Young Environmental Activists Leading the Way
~ Carol Dixon
In a time when all of us should have preserving
the planet that gives us life as our top priority,
too many adults are “concerned”, but not acting
in a meaningful way to impact those concerns.
Apathy, denial, confusion, and being cemented
in their accustomed lifestyles, they are not getting
the job done fast enough. Young people know the
future belongs to them. They know that they will
be on this Earth longer and will face more severe consequences than the adults who are reacting much too slowly. It is, on one hand, sad that the youth of our Earth have to step up and do the job of adults. But it's also encouraging and exciting that they are so mature and so invested in the future of our planet and the life it supports. This article will highlight some of these amazing young people, and will hopefully inspire all of us to do more to help and follow their lead. These young people are from countries all over the world and are all working together to protect our Earth.
Jasilyn Charger is a 22 year old Cheyenne River Sioux young woman who founded the One Mind Youth Movement in response to youth mental health issues. This movement brought reservation youth together and it evolved into activism. Jasilyn organized an anti-pipeline water run that involved Oceti Sakowin youth together from around the country to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline. Jasilyn then founded the International Indigenous Youth Council to empower young people to fight for their communities.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 19 year old activist in the US who started his speaking engagements at the age of 6 years. He is also a hip-hop musician and uses his music to deliver powerful environmental messages. He is the youth director of Earth Guardians, an organization that trains young people to use civic engagement and art to give strong environmental messages. Xinhtezcatl is one of the 21 young people who are suing the US Federal government for not being proactive enough on climate change.
Charitie Ropati is a 17 year old young woman who is an education activist from Kongiganak, Alaska. She is a strong advocate for Indigenous students to be fully educated, because they have a very high drop-out rate from high school. She pushes for education reform that will empower Indigenous students and has been successful in getting the Anchorage school district to allow cultural regalia at graduations and she is now continuing to advocate for “decolonizing education” at Columbia University. Though this is not directly environmental activism, it is my strong belief that our world needs the traditional wisdom of Indigenous cultures more than ever now to fight climate change and protect our Earth. Educated Indigenous young people can be a strong asset in this fight.
Naelyn Pike is a 19 year old San Carlos Apache who has grown up in a family of activists. Her family founded Apache Stronghold, which is an organization to protect sacred sites and freedom of religion for Indigenous communities. Naelyn now works with a group to save the sacred site Oak Flat from being sold to mining companies, a fight that has now been going on for years. Though it continues with the mining companies heavily ahead of the fight, it it not yet over.
Autumn Peltier has been working to advocate for clean water for First Nations people in Canada since the age of 8 years. She is now 15 and has spoken before Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and before the United Nations about the threat of water pollution. She was recently appointed Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation, which is a political advocacy group that represents 40 member First Nations in Ontario.
Anthony Tamez-Pochel is a young man of Wuskwi Sipihk First Nations Cree, Sicangu Lakota who lives in Chicago and advocates for urban Native youth. He is co-president of the Chi-Nations Youth Council, which helps raise cultural awareness for Native youth. He has also spearheaded the creation of a Native garden and gathering space in Chicago and participated in the protest of the logo of the Chicago Blackhawks.
EllaMae Looney is a 19 year old member of the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakima Nation. She is working to heal generational trauma of cultural identity through language. She is learning three languages spoken within her community and helping other Native youth do the same. She is studying linguistics at the University of Oregon so she can help preserve these languages. Preserving languages is a huge part of preserving culture. And, as I previously mentioned, this is a crucial time for all of us to bring in and assimilate what Indigenous cultures have to offer us with respect to caring for the planet that gives us life.
Xiye Bastida is a teenager who lives in New York. She was born and raised in Mexico and is of Otomi-Toltec heritage. She is on the administrative committee of the Peoples Climate Movement, representing young people's views to the grassroots and community activities. She is one of the leaders of the Fridays for Future youth climate strike movement. Xiye received the “Spirit of the UN” award in 2018.
Kallan Benson is a teenage young woman from the USA. She is the national coordinator for Fridays for Future USA and co-organizer for the Working Group for Fridays for Future International. In less than a year she helped coordinate a movement that resulted in over 140 weekly strike communities across the USA. She also coordinates a collaborative art activism initiative called Parachutes for the Planet, where artists express concerns about the future in their art. Her efforts helped win a state-wide fracking ban in Maryland and bills to reduce fossil fuel dependence in both Maryland and Washington, DC.
Vic Barrett is a young man from New York who lives in a low lying area that was hit by Hurricane Sandy. He is a Fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education and he spoke at COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change and also spoke at the U.N. Headquarters in New York City. He marched with over 400, 000 people at the People's Climate March in New York City and then organized young people in other climate campaigns. He is now an undergraduate student at UW Madison and is one of 21 young activists who are suing the government to force action on climate change.
John Paul Jose is a 22 year old climate activist from India. He is also a writer and global peace activist. His focus is on highlighting the impact of global warming on India and he writes and speaks about the serious impact on India's trees and forests, as well as the connections between climate action and sustainable development, water, food security, and other related issues.
Luisa Newbauer is from Germany. She is a 23 year old geography student and member of the German environmentalist Green Party. She is now the German “front person” for the Fridays for Future rallies.
Isra Hirsi is the 16 year old co-founder and co-executive of the US Youth Climate Strike. This is the organization that leads the student climate strikes and was first inspired by the Flint water crisis. She is also part of the MN Can't Wait youth coalition of organizations that work to persuade the Minnesota government to do more about climate change. Irsa is a black, Muslim young woman and she emphasizes the importance of people of all races and nationalities and religions working together for the preservation of our planet.
Holly Gillabrand is a 13 year old activist from a small town in Scotland. She is working to build a movement of young people demanding more action on climate change. She is a young ambassador to Scotland: The Big Picture and a campaigner for animal welfare with OneKind.
David Wicker is a 14 year old from Italy. He works there to organize groups through Fridays for Future in Turin, Italy. He also works internationally to promote placing the Climate Change issue as a top priority with governments world wide and get countries to respect and follow the regulations in international agreements and treaties on climate change
Lilly Platt is a young woman from The Netherlands who started being an environmental activist at 9 years old. When she first moved to The Netherlands her grandfather started teaching her how to speak Dutch and learn about numbers. They collected plastic trash to count. Plastic is still the issue that Lilly focuses on. She is a Youth Ambassador for the Plastic Pollution Coalition and a Child Ambassador for HOW Global and World Cleanup Day.
Saoi O'Connor is a 16 year old from Ireland. Every Saturday morning she travels two hours from her home to the city to protest. She has been an activist since the age of 4 when her parents started the Fair-Trade Committee in her home town. Saoi is now a leader in Ireland's youth climate rebellion.
Jamie Margolin is the 17 year old founder and co-executive of Zero Hour, a youth and women of color led movement focusing on supporting young activists and organizers through training and resources to help them be more effective. Jaime is an outspoken speaker for climate change, indigenous rights, as well as other issues.
Lean Namugerwa is a 14 year old member of Fridays for Future in Uganda. She strikes every Friday for climate change and was inspired by Greta Thunberg after feeling the need to act when witnessing the famine caused by
drought and landslides in her country. She is currently sponsoring a petition in her country for a plastic bag ban.
Anuna De Wever is a 17 year old young woman who is from Belgium who strikes for climate action in Brussels. She encourages others to take part in the strikes and believes that every action we take can make a difference.
Jerome Foster II is a 16 year old climate activist, author, National Geographic Explorer, Smithsonian Ambassador, and Founder and Editor in Chief of The Climate Reporter. He recently hosted the youth climate strikes at the White House on May 24 and spent the summer striking at Harvard University.
Eyal Weintraub is an 18 year old activist from Argentina who recently organized a protest in front of the national congress in Buenos Aires with his fellow activist Bruno Rodriguez. Eyal is a member of Jovenes Por El Clima Argentina, which is an organization of youth climate activists.
Alexandria Villaseñor is a 14 year old climate activist who strikes at the UN building in New York. She is an organizer for Fridays for Future and the founder of Earth Uprising, a non profit to promote youth around the world to rise up against climate change together.
Haven Coleman is a 13 year old young woman who is co-founder and co-executive of US Youth Climate Strike. Haven has always been passionate about fighting against injustice, but is primarily focused on climate change at this point. She continues her activism in spite of backlash she has faced from peers and politicians alike.
Greta Thunberg is almost a household name at this point. The 16 year old climate activist is the inspiration for the youth climate movement. She strikes regularly outside of the Swedish Parliament building in Stockholm and is the founder of the Fridays for Future movement. Greta has traveled the world giving moving and powerful speeches and has confronted political bodies in Europe and the United Nation. She is relentless and courageous and is the inspiration for many of the other young climate activists. By her example and leadership she has brought together nearly two million young people all over the planet to rise up and speak out to demand protections for our Earth. Greta's now famous quote from the 2018 COP24 speech she gave sums up her determination and her courageous hope: “I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.”
Highlighting these young activists made me feel hopeful. We've often heard and seen throughout history that young people are the ones that force change. Their courage and energy and vision are such a valuable asset in any society, but in today's world it is crucial. These young people are sacrificing much to do the hard work they are doing for our planet. They are inspirational and should help us all realize, as Greta says, “..imagine what we could do all together if we really wanted to.” Each of us has a part we can play. My hope is that in reading the stories of these young Earth warriors, we will all find the courage and determination within ourselves to discover and activate our own personal mission, no matter how small, to help save our planet and the life it supports.