Young climate activists making a splash

It has been only a year since Greta Thunberg began her school strike for the climate, and the attention she has received and raised for the fight against climate change is staggering. She is, however, by no means alone and not the first. What attention might teenage environmentalists have received 50 years ago if social media had existed back then? Here are some more brave youngsters deserving of at least as much attention and respect.

Canadian teenager Autumn Peltier is an internationally recognized water activist. The Anishinaabe teen has been fighting for water rights since the age of eight, and is a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation. Inspired by her great aunt Josephine Mandamin, who passionately advocated for the protection of the Great Lakes until her deat, Autumn has taken over her late aunt’s role as chief water commissioner and now represents 40 First Nations communities across Canada.

Speaking to the UN General Assembly in 2018, she said “No one should have to worry if the water is clean or if they will run out of water. No child should grow up not knowing what clean water is, or never know what running water is.”

On September 28 of this year, she addressed the Global Landscapes Forum at the UN in New York. She has recently received a nomination for the International Children’s Peace Prize by the David Suzuki Foundation.

Mari Copeny might be better known by her nickname Little Miss Flint, due to the work and attention she raised regarding Flint, Michigan’s water crisis. Also at just eight years old, she began her fight by writing to President Barack Obama asking if he would meet with her and others in her community affected by contaminated water. This meeting resulted in $100 million in grants to repair the water system.

Mari continues to fight for her community and the environment. Since 2016, she has worked with the nonprofit organization Pack Your Back to help over 25,000 children with donations for everything from school supplies to clean water. On her website, she confidently proclaims “I’m 11. My generation will fix this mess of a government. Watch us.”

Following the global strike last week, Mari tweeted “No, our fight to save the planet didn’t start today with the #ClimateStrike and it doesn’t end today either. Many of us have been putting in the work for years to save our planet. Don’t just amplify our voices today, but every day and support our solutions to save us.”

Xiye Bastida is a 17-year-old climate activist based in New York City. Raised in Mexico, Xiye experienced the effects of climate change as her hometown of San Pedro Tultepec faced extreme droughts and flooding. After moving to New York four years ago and learning about the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, she felt compelled to do something. Channeling her indigenous roots, Xiye hopes to inspire others to care for the Earth. Xiye is part of the indigenous Otomí tribe, which nurtures reciprocity with the land.

Once in New York, she started an environmental club at her school, joined several climate-focused groups, including the Peoples Climate Movement, the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, and even invited their leaders to speak at her school.

The teenager became involved in the Fridays for Future strikes in New York, in which students skip school to demand action from government officials. Since then, she’s spoken at the UN herself and helped organize the first of two Global Climate Strikes last month. Xiye was one of the youth organizers who lobbied City Council members to request excused absences for students who joined the demonstration that took place on September 20.

“People say the climate movement started decades ago, but I see it as indigenous people protecting Earth thousands of years ago,” she told PBS . “We need to bring [this philosophy] back and weave it into today’s society. People are here not to take over life, but to take care of it. It shouldn’t be ‘we the people.’ It should be ‘we the planet.’”

Alexandria Villaseñor, at fourteen years old, is one of the youngest organizers of the global climate strike. Inspired by Greta, Alexandria has been demonstrating every Friday outside the United Nations since December 14th, 2018.

That’s where she has sat for the past forty Fridays—no matter what the weather. Eventually, she founded her own climate-strike organization, Earth Uprising, which helped plan last March’s student-led global climate strike. She became friends with Greta online, and the week after her arrival in New York, Greta joined Alexandria outside the UN for a climate strike.

The strike preceded the UN Climate Action Summit, which called on the heads of state from all over the world to bring new, more ambitious plans for greenhouse-gas reductions in their countries in 2020. Not only should the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement be achieved, but emissions reduced by forty-five per cent by 2030 to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

Alexandria is one of 16 children and teenagers who have filed a legal complaint with the United Nations against five countries (Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey) that are not on track to meet the emissions goals they agreed to in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

See our previous article on teenagers Melati and Isabel Wijsen tackling Bali`s plastic pollution problem.

Image credit: UN photo/Manuel Elias

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