The battle against fossil fuels, climate change, and environmental injustice has only just begun – that’s if the world’s young people have anything to say about it. In addition to having a firm grip on the impact unsustainable behaviors have on natural resources, young people have found innovative ways of galvanizing others and demanding legislative and structural change.
Only in the last year did the Ninth Circuit court of appeals throw out the high-profile lawsuit Juliana v. United States, in which 21 young Americans sued the United States government for violating their Constitutional rights by not firmly addressing climate change.
The suit summary found that some plaintiffs claimed psychological harms, others impairment to recreational interests, others exacerbated medical conditions, and others damage to property. Plaintiffs alleged violations of their constitutional rights and sought declaratory relief and an injunction ordering the government to implement a plan to “phase out fossil fuel emissions and draw down excess atmospheric [carbon dioxide].” Still, the court held that the policy decisions necessary to address climate change were better left at the discretion “of the executive and legislative branches.”
I am disappointed that these judges would find that federal courts can’t protect America’s youth, even when a constitutional right has been violated,” Kelsey Juliana, the 23-year-old named plaintiff of Eugene, Oregon, said in a statement. “Such a holding is contrary to American principles of justice that I have been taught since elementary school. This decision gives full unfettered authority to the legislative and executive branches of government to destroy our country, because we are dealing with a crisis that puts the very existence of our nation in peril.”
Similarly, 2020 saw the disruption of a student recruitment reception at Harvard Law School where the corporate law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP – which represents ExxonMobil sought to mingle with potential hires.
“We, students of Harvard Law School, will not work for you as long as you work for ExxonMobil. Our future is on fire, and you are fanning the flames. If you want to recruit us, then drop Exxon and join us in fighting for a livable future,” said Aaron Regunberg, a first-year student at Harvard Law School. “This is a do-or-die moment in human history.”
Be clear, these protests are not mere trendy TikTok fodder or peer pressure-induced mayhem, today’s youth have “skin in the game.”
“Young people are looking to adults to lead by example and have been getting a lot of empty rhetoric in return. In some instances, they have been ignored altogether,” sociology student April Tyner told The Informer. “Ignoring the health and lifestyle crises created by climate change on children and young adults directly impacts their quality of life not just now, but into their adult lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren. It makes logical sense that they would take matters into their own hands.”
Khristen Hamilton, Zero Hour
“Social justice is environmental justice, and if we don’t acknowledge that, then we truly cannot fight climate change properly.”
Khristen Hamilton is an activist that currently works as Volunteer Management Director for Zero Hour. Hamilton has been an adamant voice of opposition to the recent backtracks on EPA regulations and policies by the Trump administration and is campaigning to see the government take more steps to address climate change. She believes that climate change impacts people’s lives daily and needs to be a priority. Recently Hamilton has made connections between the COVID-19 epidemic and how we need a heightened sense of urgency in dealing with climate change, similarly to the way we have been trying to handle the pandemic. Hamilton is also a strong advocator for organizing locally to be able to influence local elections and have a voice in the community.
Ultimately, Hamilton would like to see climate change mobilization that’s on par with the pandemic response.
“The country has done a lot to try and stop this global health pandemic, but they haven’t addressed the climate crisis with the same urgency.”
Jerome Foster II, Executive Director & Founder, OneMillionOfUs and member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council
“In America, we are temporarily insulated from [climate change], we’re temporarily just not seeing it, but everyone else around the world, in the Global South, they’re seeing it on a daily basis.”
Jerome Foster II is a 19-year-old African American climate justice activist, voting rights advocate, and emerging technology developer. He is the Executive Director & Founder of OneMillionOfUs, which is mobilizing a new generation of young people to register and turnout to vote. Throughout 2019, Foster served as the House Congressional Intern for the late Honorable Congressman John Lewis. Also working as Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Climate Reporter, an international environmental news organization. Foster has spoken at the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights, held weekly climate strikes in front of the White House and Harvard University for over 80 weeks as a part of Greta Thunberg’s Fridays For Future, and helped to pass the Clean Energy DC Act. He won the World Series of Entrepreneurship for creating a civic-based virtual reality organization called TAU VR.
Amariyana “Mari” Copeny, [Little Miss Flint] Activist
“Never let anybody shut you up, and trust me they will try, because you’re young and a lot of adults don’t think you should have an opinion.”
Mari is a 13-year-old from Flint, Michigan known globally as Little Miss Flint. She first rose to the public spotlight when her letter to President Obama about the water crisis prompted him to visit the city and survey the water crisis for himself. That visit ultimately led to him approving $100 million in relief for the city of Flint. Mari has used her platform to not only bring awareness to her community but to give back. Mari has raised over $500,000 for her Flint Kids projects including giving out over 16,000 backpacks stuffed with school supplies, a yearly Christmas event with thousands of toys, Easter baskets, movie screenings, and most recently partnered with a filtration company (Hydroviv) to produce her very own water filters.