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Youth Voices, Unfiltered


Scroll through to see young people's take on the global climate emergency, and the work that they are doing to fight against climate change.
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Youth Climate Activists call for Global Mobilization on Earth Day by We The Planet

Youth Climate Activists call for Global Mobilization on Earth Day by We The Planet (Xiye Bastida, Saoi O’Connor, Sofia Hernandez, Theresa Rose Sebastian, Joseph Wilkanowski and Ilana Zeitzer)

As climate activists, we have seen our efforts to mobilize people to the street stalled by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Our next Global Climate Strike was scheduled for April 24th, just two days after Earth Day. Nevertheless, we know that as activists, organizers, and members of the global community, we must do our best to slow the spread of the virus. That means no strikes, no events, and no in-person organizing. But it doesn’t mean that we will stop mobilizing for climate justice. We The Planet began with the goal of not allowing the current pandemic impede climate action, and to connect the global community, regardless of their previous environmental activism engagement. Our campaign encourages both personal and systemic change as we believe the solution to the climate crisis is a combination of these. Sometimes, as activists, we treat individual behavioral change and systemic change as mutually exclusive.

However at We The Planet, we believe both kinds of actions are necessary, and neither can happen in a meaningful capacity without the other. Individual change has often been treated as a substitute for systemic action, which it is not and will never be. It has been used as an excuse to defend broken systems that are causing harm. This means— no, we cannot only recycle our way out of the climate crisis. The flip side is any systemic change will require behavioral change. Which is to say, if we want companies to stop the production of single use plastic, we need to push for that kind of legislation. We need to change our relationship with the planet, from fixing systemic injustices, to addressing our personal habits-- and the youth led actions of We The Planet embody that message. That is why we are calling on organizations, companies, influencers, climate activists, and the general public, to join and pledge to individual and systemic actions. Through our experiences as activists and organizers, we have seen the media’s unwillingness to highlight those working at a grassroots level, and, in particular, people of color. To tackle this, we have teamed up with media outlets to ensure that the stories of those who are affected are heard. We believe in the power of storytelling, and we know that when we tell personal stories, the narrative changes. We need the narrative to highlight that climate injustice is happening now, and that we need immediate action to prevent the worst. Thus, we decided to collaborate with different media outlets to show that we strive for inclusion and just representation. This injustice is becoming increasingly obvious with the impacts and responses of COVID-19 through the stories of those communities. We have fought to lower the risk of crisis and the impact of what happens if we reach a point that we cannot come back from. From the Covid 19 event, we have learned that we have the ability to contain that risk. We have learned that we have the tools to do so, so we have to ask ourselves, Why aren’t we doing that now? Climate change is a crisis that has been impacting all of us, and we cannot ignore that each and everyone of us will be impacted in the future. We have to deal with this crisis with the same mindset against the pandemic, because they both need to be given the same attention. The response to the Coronavirus pandemic has shown us that it is possible to come together, it is possible to mobilize all sectors of society, and invest in the well being of our global community. We must translate the radical collaboration taken to address the coronavirus pandemic, into comprehensive action to tackle the climate crisis. The relationship between the climate crisis and COVID-19 is indisputable. The circumstances that led to them being exacerbated, were the ones created by a fundamental lack of proactiveness: in both cases, the systems that are supposed to withstand crises are not strong enough. We cannot argue against the fact that the ones being affected the most are the ones with the least privilege. We have to act when given the chance, for us, that meant we had to create our own chances: a movement that was global and inclusive. These systemic problems continue to threaten humanity as a whole. COVID-19 is a crisis, one that because of its current and future impacts has forced all nations to unite to tackle it. For the younger generations, the climate crisis also presents both current and tangible impacts on our lives, as well as future impacts on the road ahead. As young activists, we urge the world not to wait until the effects of the climate crisis reach this point. We can take action now, and come together as a global whole to help protect those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, to help protect our homes, families and communities, and everyone else’s. But we cannot do so unless we listen to the science and bring down the emission curve. We know we need immediate action, behavioral and systemic changes and that we cannot wait any longer. As a global community we have made poor choices in addressing COVID-19, as we have made poor choices addressing the climate crisis, but we hope that we can now understand what we can accomplish if we work together, and what will happen if we do not. We are learning to be a global community, to come together in our empathy, in each other’s grief and in our hour of need, we are learning to heal. Today, we are fearful, isolated, and threatened, but through these past few weeks of adjusting to COVID-19, and the few years of responding and acting to the climate crisis, and our experience organising for climate action, we have learned to be hopeful, connected and resilient. Millions of people are social-distancing in their homes and feeling alone, and helpless, but as young environmental activists, we have found the ability to connect not only across towns but across continents to unite our voices. Though we previously planned to turn out in mass numbers for Earth Day in cities all around the world, we are not letting COVID-19 prevent us from raising our voices to bring attention to the climate crisis, and to call for climate justice. We are now turning to digital actions for change.

Every crisis means a breaking point but also it must be seen as an opportunity for change, to rethink our role with nature, with our practices towards a more sustainable development which safeguards human rights and the common good.

We are the continuation of a fight that began with indigenous peoples, the continuation of a movement that has been silenced several times but now we are global and connected, we are taking care of ourselves and the society at the same time as we fight for climate justice We are the future and we have a message for the world: we must change now and we will not wait any longer.

--------------------------------- About the Authors:

Theresa Rose Sebastian is an Indian activist, who has experienced the effects of climate change on her home in Kerala. She now channels her activism into climate awareness and education for the public, as well as urging policymakers for real change.

Saoi O’Connor is a 17 year old climate justice activist from rural Ireland

Joseph Wilkanowski: 18, a high school senior, focuses on racial justice within underprivileged communities and is new to the environmental activist scen

Ilana Zeitzer is a 23 year old ecology masters student at SUNY ESF. She is an environmental activist working with We The Planet, Polluters Out, FFF Syracuse and Turning green.

Xiye Bastida is an 18 year climate justice activist based in New York City. She speaks up about indigenous rights and the philosophy that we should embody to address the climate crisis. She works with FFFNYC and is the cofounder of We The Planet.

Sofía is a 21 year old political science student. She is a human rights activist from Costa Rica focusing on climate justice, gender equality and imigration rights. She works with FFF Costa Rica, Youth and Climate Change Costa Rican Network and is the cofounder of We The Planet

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Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth supports all young people and their diversity in exercising their right to freedom of expression. Reach Not Preach platform serves as a safe space for all young people to share their take on the topic of climate change. The views expressed in the Reach Not Preach platform are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the United Nations Office of the Secretary-General's Envoy on Youth and the United Nations.

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