It’s Too Darn Hot: Stories From a Youth Climate Activist
By Ritwik Tati
“My parents immigrated to the United States from India in 2001. My dad’s flight was supposed to leave Hyderabad just days after 9/11. My parents hadn’t known it yet, but for the next few years, Americans would be on edge, for fear that someone that remotely “looked” like a terrorist would be hiding in their own neighborhood.”
I wasn’t sure if I was lucky that I grew up in a middle-class, homogenous town. I hadn’t felt any severe discrimination from the people I knew. Instead, I felt that a piece of my personal puzzle was missing. It seemed as though everyone that lived in my hometown had the same experiences. I wasn’t enriching myself with new cultures and new states of mind.
Once I took up activism, I realized the sheer scope of backgrounds that people had. And more importantly, I realized how diverse people’s experiences with the climate were. It’s been said thousands of times that our generation will face the brunt of the climate crisis in the event that it isn’t solved. We know what the stakes are, and we know what we have to fight for. But what’s stopping us?
We’ve known that the climate crisis has been a pressing issue for over half a century now. We know the science, we know the facts, and we know the statistics.
But that’s just it. How can we integrate youth voices into the movement when they feel as though they can’t join the cause without a solid understanding of what IPCC reports are and the ins-and-outs of activism organizing? We tell our stories.
Since we’ve walked this earth, stories have served as mediums for every type of emotion. We use stories to caution, to encourage, and to inspire. And in regards to the climate crisis, an issue that affects every human being across the world, our stories might be the most powerful thing to creating a movement that is integrated and influential.
“My first-ever political action was the September 2019 climate strike hosted by Sunrise Philly. At this point, I had never inserted myself into a movement this intensely, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready to do so. But seeing thousands of people from all walks of like convening in one spot to demand climate action gave me hope. I didn’t personally know anyone else my age that was so deeply involved in activism, so I thought, ‘Hey, why can’t I be the first?’. That one event that I attended launched me into the world of youth activism, a community so motivated, so welcoming, and so relatable that I’ve come to call my activist circles my second family.”
As an organizer for Sunrise Movement and Zero Hour, which are both youth-led movements, I’ve faced considerable opposition: from the politicians, the wealthy, and the adults. I’ve been dismissed as naive and misunderstanding -- that climate change isn’t our problem to deal with. But telling my personal narrative about the climate crisis -- expressing the raw feelings I’ve been exposed to at such a young age -- merely proves that this is our generation’s fight and we have the right to lead a movement for reform.
“I live in Camden County, located in New Jersey. In addition to bordering the Delaware River, my county’s largest city, Camden, is facing the threats of rising sea levels, harmful pollution, and unsanitary water. How could a city affected by so differing issues not be covered in the media? The majority of the population is black and low-income, two groups of people that are clearly not represented in the media. The signs of climate change have been clear for years, but until they’ve affected a white community, there’s been no significant action on it whatsoever. Our local politicians aren’t taking action, and neither are the eligible voters in my district, so I’m the one taking responsibility for my future.”
In addition to proving deniers wrong, our stories link us together in so many ways. They connect the activist to the ally and the victim to the voter. But it also debunks so many stereotypes that society associates with different groups of people. You might assume that one person is of a certain characteristic, but making that assumption is disrespectful and denies that person the right to express their thoughts on a level playing field with you.
“When I was nine years old, my teacher asked our class what we each wanted to be when we grew up. The 2012 election was just ramping up, and my interest in politics had definitely heightened. My parents’ own negative interactions with immigration law enforcement helped me decide that I wanted to be a lawyer. But this response came as a surprise to her. ‘Wouldn’t you want to be a doctor instead? I assume you’re very good at science!’ she said. I disagreed, but I felt uneasy for the rest of the day. I hadn’t known it then, but I had been racially profiled.”
Our planet might be warming up, but we most definitely are warming up to each other -- many thanks to the stories we tell that connect us.
So as our sea level rises, and youth voices rise with it, we need to remember to keep our humanity in check. Youth activism is genuine at least, and making sure our stories are heard are the best ways to make sure we aren’t marginalizing, tokenizing, or discriminating.
A solution to the climate crisis requires all of us. It’ll be hard work and it’ll be time-consuming. But telling our stories gives us an edge that no climate denier, money-laundering politician, or fossil fuel executive can obtain: understanding.
About the Author
Ritwik Tati, a 16-year-old junior in high school, is from Haddon Heights, NJ. He is the hub coordinator for Sunrise South Jersey, a chapter of the Sunrise Movement. In addition to climate activism, Ritwik is also passionate about equal rights, gun control, and criminal justice reform. When he isn’t organizing, he’s probably out for a run with his teammates or editing articles for his school newspaper. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter, @ritwiktatertot.