Youth Leading on Climate Justice See the Interconnectedness of All Life

Commentary
By Melody Zhang 3-27-2019
Image via Melody Zhang 

On Mar. 15, hundreds of thousands of youth in over 100 countries around the world skipped school to demand real governmental action towards a healthy and clean future. In D.C., I witnessed hundreds of young people on the Capitol grounds, holding up colorful signs and wearing a bold new version of moral leadership. There was singing, dancing, and a palpable joy in the atmosphere, even while students unabashedly spoke truth to power in the midst of such an urgent crisis. I think of the courage which led 16-year-old Greta Thunberg to begin striking alone back in August, and am amazed that this movement has since swept the globe.  

Motivated by their faith and supported by their teachers, many students from Christian schools joined that Friday and put their faith into action. I asked students what inspired them to be there.

“I don’t think people are paying enough attention to climate change,” 11-year-old Vivian Cronenberg, who attends a local Christian school, told me. “It’s an understated problem and I’d like to bring that out into the light more.” She added that her faith motivates her “because everything comes from one place.” Standing by her friend, 10-year-old Sophia Weiss agreed. “A lot of people are affected by [climate change],” she said. “People are dying. We shouldn’t stand for that.”

Listening to them, it strikes me that many young people are motivated by an instinctive understanding of the deep interconnectedness of all life. This energy and inherent understanding that young people bring to the movement is refreshing; I think of the many ways in which young people are often dismissed as impatient and immature, but in this case it seems they are the only ones moving and asking for action on climate that truly rises to the urgency and the scale of the climate crisis.

I also met Christian university students who were among the leaders at the strike. Jan Jan Maran, a student at George Mason University, told me that “we have to do everything we can right now.” Jan Jan explained that her climate activism is informed by her understanding of Scripture. “I believe that God actually put us on earth to be caretakers,” said Jan. “We have to take care of the resources that God has given us, [we] can’t just go around destroying it.”

Isra Hirsi, the 16-year-old daughter of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn), was one of the lead organizers of the U.S. Youth-led Climate Strike movement. Isra brought the story close to home. “In Minneapolis, the polar vortex hit us hard. I had four snow days in one week and at least three people died,” she said.

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Youth Climate Strike

On Friday, an estimated 1.4 million kids in 123 countries skipped school to participate in a youth climate strike, advocating for stronger climate policies. Here was the view in Washington, D.C.

Posted by Sojourners on Monday, March 18, 2019

Rep. Omar spoke on how the climate crisis exacerbates current issues of race and immigration. “It is our responsibility to invest directly in areas that have been affected by environmental racism,” Rep. Omar asserted. “The U.S. should be offering protections and support for refugees who are affected by climate.”

Eight-year-old activist Havana Chapman-Edwards, also known as the Tiny Diplomat, closed that day with a powerful statement on climate justice intersectionality. “I am here today because climate justice issues are not separate from other justice issues. It’s not right that wildfires, droughts and other climate disasters are being ignored. Black, indigenous, and people of color are doing the least damage to the planet but we are the ones who are paying the price first.”

Havana gave voice to how important it is to educate and empower girls as one of the most effective strategies for mitigating climate change. She explained that the girls in her neighborhood had to stop reading whenever it got dark because they didn’t have electricity and kerosene was too expensive. “[Now] imagine what these strong and brilliant girls could do if they had access to solar power and a public library,” she said.

Havana bore witness to the hope she sees in young people rising all over the world to demand and enact concrete solutions that match the scale of climate crisis. “I have been to 26 countries, and today all 26 are striking with us,” she told us.

I believe that God is speaking a new word through this young generation. And although news cycles have moved on, the students at this march keep fighting for climate justice.1 Timothy 4:12 says, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." These kids are doing just that.

Melody Zhang is the Climate Justice Campaign Coordinator at Sojourners.

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