May 21st, 2019

Although many climate conversations talk about impacts on future generations, all too often those younger generations are not at the table or in the room. So how are young people taking charge of their climate future? For Isha Clarke, a high school student and activist from Oakland, California, by speaking truth to the senior U.S. Senator from her state.

“I think that truth is respectful and that you can speak truth in a way that is compassionate and authentic,” says Clarke, who recently gained fame for a viral video in which she confronts Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein over the Green New Deal.

“I think the conversation now isn’t really about Senator Feinstein anymore,” Clarke says as she reflects on that experience and the ensuing coverage, “it's really about politicians in general and power holders in general, who aren’t and haven't been taking the necessary steps to reverse this climate crisis.

Feeling a similar frustration at her elders’ failure to act more urgently, 14-year old Sarah Goody organized a climate strike in San Francisco.

“Why study for a future that’s not gonna exist?” says Sarah in response to passers-by who question why she’s sitting on a sidewalk rather than in a classroom, “I need to be here now and fighting now for my future.”

Sitting alone outside iconic buildings can be a lonely endeavor, so other slightly-less young activists have found their climate calling by getting involved in more organized movements.

“I see [it] as a civic duty to be involve to be socially engaged in whatever way I can,” says Morrisa Zuckerman, Bay Area chapter coordinator for the Sunrise Movement, the grassroots organization behind the Green New Deal. She and her colleagues have been pressing lawmakers and candidates to make climate action a top priority – and it’s working.

“This Democratic presidential primary is talking about climate change in a way that I don't think any of us necessarily expected,” enthuses Ben Wessel, Youth Vote Director at NextGen America, the environmental advocacy organization founded by billionaire activist Tom Steyer.

Wessel has been impressed by the diversity of motivations that have recently been drawing young people to climate politics. “This is one intersectional movement that has to address our racial injustices our climate injustices and our economic injustices,” Wessel says, “I actually think the Democratic primary electorate is recognizing that more than ever before.”

Elections have consequences; but without more fundamental changes, shifting political winds can erase hard-fought carbon reductions. That’s why for Julia Olson, Executive Director of Our Children's Trust, the most effective climate solution lies in judicial rather than legislative action.

Olson is chief legal counsel for plaintiffs in Juliana versus United States, the lawsuit brought by 21 young people accusing the federal government of violating their fundamental rights under the Fifth Amendment to life, liberty and property by knowingly promoting and subsidizing an energy system that damages climate.

“What we hope to do through our case in lifting up the voice of youth in the Judiciary,” Olson explains, “is to secure the binding constitutional mandate that forces the people in the presidency and in the legislature to actually adopt laws and policies that comply with its constitutional obligation.”

Related links:

Sunrise Movement

NextGen Rising

Youth v. Gov (Juliana v. United States)

Our Children’s Trust

Plant for the Planet

Speakers at this Event

Student Activist

Student Activist

Executive Director at Our Children's Trust; Chief Legal Counsel for plaintiffs in Juliana v. U.S.

Director, NextGen Rising

Bay Area Chapter Coordinator, Sunrise Movement