Youth Urge Action on Climate Change and Environmental Justice

Marches on Saturday in Washington, D. C., and other cities spring from “a sliver of hope left” to act against climate change

— Although Nadia Nazar says that she and her friends “aren’t that optimistic about climate change,” the 16-year-old Marylander who will soon be an 11th grader isn’t letting that stop her from trying to do something about it.

earth on hands
Credit: iStock.com/RapidEye

 

That includes helping to organize the Youth Climate March on Saturday in Washington, D. C., with satellite marches planned for some other cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Denver.

“We want to live our lives, too, and we can’t do that if climate change is here and if it’s growing.”

Her inspiration to act “comes from the fact that we do have a little sliver of hope left” before severe impacts of climate change might be irreversible, Nazar told Eos.
“It’s really upsetting that older generations never considered the future when making their decisions and how they just made it in the moment, and how everyone just wants to live their lives,” said Nazar, a founding member of the Zero Hour youth movement that is behind the march and focuses on climate change and environmental justice. “We want to live our lives, too, and we can’t do that if climate change is here and if it’s growing. I’m very upset that our elected officials are acting without thinking about the lives of their constituents.”

Highlighting Climate Change and Environmental Justice

Zero Hour began a year ago, the brain child of Jamie Margolin, a 16-year-old from Seattle, Wash. Nazar was one of the first people to join the group. Together, they and members of their team have been meeting with members of Congress, students, radio hosts, and others to spread the word about climate change and the upcoming march.

zero hour movement
(left) Nada Nazar and (right) Jaime Margolin, on their way to the D. C. office of Kamala Harris (D-Ca.) on 19 July. Behind them are other members of the Zero Hour movement. Credit: Zero Hour

The march and rally will “highlight the voices and stories of youth on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” according to the group’s website. The group’s platform, which calls for climate justice and ending fossil fuel use, among other measures, states, “It is not the poor people who are to blame for climate change, but it is poor people who are suffering first and most from it.”

Kibiriti Majuto, who took a leading role in crafting the group’s platform, said that different people experience climate change differently but that low-income, minority, and disenfranchised communities generally feel the sting much worse.

“We realize this administration and the way our government is right now don’t recognize climate change as an issue,” said Majuto, 20, a college student in Virginia whose family emigrated to the United States from the Congo. With the platform, “we’re saying we have greater power than 100 senators.”

Scientists’ Support for the Youth Effort

Several scientists told Eos that they applaud the youth march and initiative.

“They’re not just focusing on a moment; they’re focusing on a movement.”

“It shows that young people care about the environment and care about climate and that they are willing to take leadership on those issues,” said Mustafa Santiago Ali, senior vice president of climate, environmental justice and community revitalization at the Hip Hop Caucus, a group whose mission focuses on empowering communities affected by injustice. “They are also thinking critically about those issues. They’re not just focusing on a moment; they’re focusing on a movement.”

Ali commended the march organizers for working to ensure that all voices are heard within their leadership, structure, and movement. That’s important, Ali told Eos, because environmental justice is a central point related to climate change. He noted that not only are fossil fuel plants primarily located in communities of color, in low-income communities, and sometimes on indigenous land, but those same communities get hit hard by the impacts of climate-related events such as intense storms and floods.

Ali, who previously was senior adviser for environmental justice and community revitalization at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, also stressed the value in building relationships between organizations on the ground and scientists doing technical research and analysis. “When that happens, you can’t then have governments or administrations who can come in and try to weaken science, because there’s now a connection between scientists and voters, [between] scientists and people who are dealing with the impacts every day on the ground.”

Calling for More Scientists to Get Involved

The march “is super-important,” said Anna Scott, a climate scientist who received her Ph.D. from the department of Earth and planetary sciences at the Johns Hopkins University earlier this year. “The climate is one of those things that we don’t have a fix for unless we mobilize people, and it’s absolutely affecting future generations more than it’s affecting past generations.”

“The way things have been going, there has been lots of talk but very little action,” said Scott, CEO and cofounder of the start-up Troposphere Monitoring.

“Publishing more papers does not fix this,” she said. “When I see young people who say, ‘Yes, I’m going to get up, go around, get everyone out onto the streets,’ that’s what we need more of.”

Filling the Void

The march “fits into a larger context of youth and kids stepping up to make their voices heard,” like the March for Our Lives earlier this year to protest gun violence, said Daniel Zarrilli, senior director for climate policy and programs and chief resilience officer in the New York City office of the mayor.

“The youth and kids who have the most to lose from this challenge—the risk of climate change—are stepping up to fill that void [in federal leadership], and that’s really impressive.”

“Recognizing the moment we are in, in the Trump administration, and the total void in federal leadership, what I’ve seen where I sit is cities, business, and universities all step up to fill that void, and this is a piece of that,” Zarrilli told Eos. “The youth and kids who have the most to lose from this challenge—the risk of climate change—are stepping up to fill that void, and that’s really impressive.”

A Sense of Urgency

Zero Hour founding member Nazar said that the best outcome from the march would be “creating a national sense of urgency.”

“People already are suffering right now due to climate change, and the fact that urgency isn’t there and people think of climate change as a joke and not a crisis is a problem,” she said. “We’re really trying to capture that and be like, ‘hey, we don’t want to die. Can you please do something? And we will do something if you don’t.’ And we are doing something, because they’re not.”


by Randy Showstack | Eos