Greta Thunberg has become a household name around the world: a determined young Swede who, at the age of 16, became a familiar face during the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, inspiring more than four million demonstrators to join the movement.
While Thunberg has earned the right to be recognized as a leading environmental warrior, she is not the only young environmental activist making her mark on the world.
Eight-year-old Mari Copeny became famous for her letter to President Barack Obama about water pollution in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, eventually dubbed “Little Miss Flint.”
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is another young environmental activist and hip-hop artist who served as youth director for Earth Guardians. This organization integrates music, art and storytelling to address important environmental issues and effectively train and mobilize other young activists.
Of course, Thunberg, Copeny and Martinez are just a small sample of teenage eco-activists working tirelessly to create positive change for future generations. Collectively, young activists have a lot to teach the world about the climate crisis and how to address these issues in the future.
Here are five lessons we can learn from young environmental activists.
1. Diversity is at the forefront
Environmental racism often means that people from disadvantaged communities lack access to clean ecological resources, and environmental hazards and pollution likely affect low-income and racially marginalized communities.
Young environmental activists have focused their efforts on addressing racial inequality in their climate-focused mission, highlighting the lack of diverse voices and increasing the representation of people from all cultural backgrounds, disabilities and gender identities.
Young people learn and educate others about environmental racism, providing a much-needed platform for underrepresented people to speak out about how they are most affected by climate change.
2. Social media is a powerful tool
As of July 2021, an estimated 4.8 billion people are using social media platforms and young climate activists have recognized the potential to reach the masses and encourage participation in their movement.
Information spreads quickly through social media apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, allowing activists to raise awareness of environmental issues with images and videos and connect with users around the world.
Social media is also a useful tool for educating those who may not have access to more standard mainstream media networks.
3. Accountability is essential
People under 18 are considered by law to be too young to vote for political leaders who align themselves with their green ideologies; however, they didn’t let that get in the way of their environmental efforts.
Some youth-led organizations, such as the Sunrise Movement, are developing ways to voice youth perspectives and environmental concerns to the US government, making the fight against climate change their full-time job.
Sunrise Movement members have become skilled collaborators in finding solutions to green jobs, environmental racism and the COVID-19 crisis, calling out lawmakers who stand in the way of progress.
Although young environmental activists are not directly involved in decision-making, they can still hold those in power accountable for their actions and encourage change. From banning fracking to encouraging more sustainable and healthier food, leaders know their actions are being watched closely and judged by future voters.
4. Information must be accessible
The United States is a melting pot of different cultures, with a multitude of people from all over the world. According to the 2020 US Census Bureau report, approximately 40% of Americans are classified as a race or ethnicity other than white. Similar multicultural societies exist in Europe and elsewhere as well.
For this reason, young environmental activists recognize the importance of accessible information. The latest trends in environmental science need to be interpreted in a way that resonates with everyday people and translates into multiple languages.
The average person should not struggle to understand the political or ecological issues that directly affect them. For example, ‘carbon sequestration’ can best be understood as ‘how carbon is removed from the air’.
Another example is that of “common resources”, which are “watersheds, forests and fisheries that are shared by all”.
5. Youth environmental activism is for everyone
Of all the critical lessons we can learn from young environmental activists, you are never too young or too old to get involved.
Young people may not be able to vote, but they can participate in civic engagements in their local communities or at the national level. For some, the climate crisis is taking them across the world.
According to a 2020 survey by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Engagement and Learning (CIRCLE) at Tuft University, 80% of respondents believe the power of change is in their capable hands, while another 79% believe the pandemic has underlined the impact of politics on their daily life.
With all of this in mind, it is clear that young people play a vital role in the fight for a healthier and more sustainable earth. By mobilizing and bringing these issues to the forefront of political, economic and behavioral change, they are paving the way for climate reform and racial equality for generations to come.
By Jane Marsh. Articles in English