Advocacy & News

The Many Faces of Youth Climate Activism

Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, who has been embraced by the world’s media as the face of youth environmental activism, is deserving of the attention and accolades she’s received, but there are many other youth activists who have not caught the media’s attention for their outstanding work. And they deserve to be as well-known within this movement as she is.

And to be clear, I don’t think pointing out the work of other activists takes anything away from Greta, her message or her work. There is room for everyone to add their voice to the call for protecting the environment and action to slow/fight climate change. I just think the media has chosen to heavily focus on Greta because White voices are often given more weight or utilized more over the voices of indigenous and peoples of colour.

via RandiFoorDalton on Twitter

This is reflected by the fact that indigenous communities often experience the effects of environmental damage before anyone else – but how many of these communities are as vigorously represented in the media?

Indigenous peoples are among the first to face the direct consequences of climate change, due to their dependence upon, and close relationship, with the environment and its resources. Climate change exacerbates the difficulties already faced by indigenous communities including political and economic marginalization, loss of land and resources, human rights violations, discrimination and unemployment. | UN Dept. of Economic & Social Affairs

Communities directly and immediately impacted by climate change should have their experiences at the forefront of any fight to protect Mother Earth. If we are truly serious about having any shot at understanding what is going on, it is their voices that should be heard first. I’m not saying that Sweden hasn’t or won’t feel the effects of climate change and that Greta Thunberg should be silenced, but there is a wealth of lived, land-based knowledge that could be accessed by highlighting all voices that are on the front lines and seeing the destruction of our natural world with their own eyes.

Autumn Peltier, at the age of thirteen, addressed world leaders at the 2018 UN General Assembly as an advocate for clean water and a water protector. Autumn is Anishinaabe and a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation. Earlier this year she was named the Chief Water Commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation and has worked tirelessly to advocate for clean water.

Isra Hirsi, the 16-year-old daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, has been a keen advocate and speaker on social justice issues but has recently discovered the urgency of climate change action, especially as it impacts indigenous nations/lands alongside communities of Colour the most. Isra is the co-founder and Executive Director of the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and continues to organize, educate and work for the improvement of environmental protections and climate sustainability that will affect the whole world. She is joined in her mission by an amazing team of young people like Feliquan Charlemagne, Karla Stephan, Salomée Levy and Anya Sastry.

via @israhirsi on Twitter

Artemisa Xakriabá is a 19-year-old activist member of the Xakriabá people of Brazil who is a vital voice highlighting the devastation and destruction climate change is having on the Amazon rainforest. As a representative of the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities, Artemisa spoke at the recent New York Climate Strike and hers is a voice we should be hearing more often.

We, the indigenous peoples, are the children of nature, so we fight for our Mother Earth, because the fight for Mother Earth is the mother of all other fights. We are fighting for your lives. We are fighting for our lives. We are fighting for our sacred territory. But we are being persecuted, threatened, murdered, only for protecting our own territories. We cannot accept one more drop of indigenous blood spilled. | Artemisa Xakriabá – Climate Strike Speech

18-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is the Youth Director of Earth Guardians. At the age of six, he spoke around the world about environmentalism and climate action. He has worked tirelessly since then to educate others about the urgent need to rise up and protect the Earth (including writing books, creating music, and attending summits/assemblies) and he has a wealth of experience that can be drawn on to actually make a difference.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez via SquareSpace

Nina Gualinga is a 24-year-old indigenous woman from Puyo, Ecuador who faithfully works to raise awareness about actively protecting the Ecuadorian Amazon. When she was 18, Nina was part of a group of indigenous people who spoke before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that helped to win a landmark case against the Ecuadorian government for allowing oil drilling on indigenous lands and continues to work to get her government, and governments around the world, to work towards becoming a fossil-fuel-free economy.

I’m constantly in awe of the power, poise, knowledge and passion — coupled with real action — that all of these young activists have shown over the years and that they continue to make a difference on a global scale. Greta Thunberg is extraordinary and has fought her way to rightfully hold the attention of the world, but that right also belongs to Artemisa, Autumn, Isra, Nina and Xiuhtezcatl — and any other young activist I’ve unintentionally missed. All of their voices are equally valuable so let’s make sure their representation is too.

If you know of any other young activists that I’ve not included that you want to make sure get a shout out, leave a comment! 

UPDATE: As I continue to find new youth climate activists I will add them and try to provide links to their work and ways you can support it.

Miyâwata Stout, a 12-year-old Cree activist who co-organized protests back in 2018 to send a petition to the Canadian government calling on them to take immediate climate action.

Mari Copeny, aka Little Miss Flint, has been campaigning for water protections and clean water for her community in Flint, Michigan and beyond.

Ridhima Pandey, an 11-year-old activist from Haridwar, India filed a complaint, along with a number of other activists, with the United Nations Climate Action Summit against five G20 countries and their lack of action to combat pollution and environmental degradation by failing to curb fossil fuel emissions.

Carl Smith, a 17-year-old climate activist from the Yupik of Alaska, also filed the complaint with the United Nations Climate Action Summit mentioned above.

Tokatawin Iron Eyes, a 16-year-old Native youth advocate and public speaker from Standing Rock who helped set up and co-chaired, alongside Greta Thunberg, the Youth Climate Crisis Panel held in October 2019 at Pine Ridge.

Further Reading:

EPA Concludes Environmental Racism Is Real – The Atlantic

Racism in the Media Persists 50 Years After Kerner Report – Free Press

Indigenous Communities Are Leading the Environmental Justice Movement – Eriel Deranger & Bioneers

12 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Youth Climate Activism”

  1. Greta is truly making waves around the world and is the face of youth environmental activism, especially considering that just one year ago she was alone outside of Swedish Parliament protesting for climate change – now the whole world is with her.

    I 100% agree – although Greta is now viewed as the face for youth environmental activism there are other youths who have been raising their voices as well. White voices are most definitely given more weight than indigenous and people of color – and it’s frustrating that their activism work is sometimes swept completely aside in favor of the ‘white savior’ complex the media pushes.

    They should be at the forefront sharing their experiences because they are the first to be directly impacted by it, there should be some stage-sharing but the media does seem to focus on Greta more than the others who can also contribute to the climate change discussions being had.

    I heard of Autumn Peltier – just one post on her though in passing, I should really educate myself more on all activists even if the media prizes one over others. I’ve also heard of Isra Hirsi, could hear more of her and the amazing work she’s doing though!!

    I haven’t heard of Artemisa, Xiuhtezcatl or Nina before – curious to be reading more about these young activists! Thank you for writing about them!

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    1. I 100% agree with you … and hopefully, more people are becoming aware of the work other activists have also been doing for years but got little media coverage. I’m continuing to add to this article as I find more youth activists (I’ve just updated today too) so I plan to make sure I get as much info out as possible.

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing your thoughts!

      Like

  2. Thank you so much for writing this article! I’ve been thinking about it the other day, but honestly didn’t know how to do the research to pull it off. I’ll be sure to share it!

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  3. This was an amazing post! Thank you so much for highlighting so many young activists who want to help change this planet for the better, but aren’t getting as much notice as Greta Thunberg (as great as she is!). I’m definitely going to be learning more about these amazing young people and their causes and stories. Really well done article and researched so well, too!

    Emily | https://www.thatweirdgirllife.com

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  4. We need to do whatever we can to save the environment. I love reading about how the youth is taking involvement, whether they are doing marches or doing something out of the norm to make a point. It is unfortunate that it is the indigenous communities that experience the effects faster than anyone else. During the heat, they bear with it while the city people blast their air conditioners, which in turn spews out hot air. I love these young ladies who have involved with spreading the message across.

    Nancy ♥ exquisitely.me

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    1. I agree — action needs to be taken, and taken on a global, governmental and individual level.

      These young people are incredible and it’s a shame our elected officials (at least it seems so here) aren’t matching the work they’re doing.

      Thank you so much for reading!

      Like

  5. It’s great that all these young people are stepping up to try and save our planet, but at the same time, it’s shames us all that they have to do that in the first place.

    Why won’t our leaders and multinational corporations do what is needed to protect our environment now, without anyone needing to protest. That’s the kind of world we should be living in, when doing the right thing is the norm

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