Greta's Not the Only One: 7 Other Young Climate Activists to Know By Name
While there’s historical precedent for youth activism, over the last several years, social media has given us a front-row seat to witness young people step up and demand more from their communities and representatives, and take on roles as leaders in everything from gun control to climate change. Often, teenage girls are at the helm. Consistently underestimated in terms of their power and perspective, activated and politically motivated young women are out to make the world better for everyone.
Swedish teen Greta Thunberg recently became a household name for sailing across the Atlantic to appear before to the U.N. Climate Action Summit (lest she increase her carbon footprint by flying), and once there declaring "you have stolen my childhood" and "shame on you," to any adults who've relied on her impassioned activism rather than make meaningful change themselves. Thankfully, she isn't going it alone. Here are seven other young women putting their intelligence, organizing, and passion to good use in the urgent fight against climate change.
Autumn Peltier, Wiikwemkoong First Nation
Her cause: 15-year-old Autumn has been speaking up about the environment since elementary school, and, in particular, focuses on clean water as a basic human right.
Her impact: Autumn was named chief water commissioner by a political advocacy group for 40 First Nations across Ontario, the Anishinabek Nation, and in 2016, caught public attention for confronting Candandian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about his support of pipeline projects, a choice that garnered criticism from indigenous activists (there are 100 First Nation communities that have had a water advisory in place for over a year). She is a current nominee for the 2019 International Children’s Peace Prize, consistently speaks at events around the world to spread her message, and, mostly recently, addressed the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan in September, speaking at the Global Landscapes Forum.
Haven Coleman, Colorado
Her cause: Haven began protesting climate change inaction in Denver, Colorado, and eventually, planned the U.S. Youth Climate Strike alongside fellow youth climate activists, Alexandria Villaseñor and Isra Hirsi. In addition to being a co-founder of U.S. Youth Climate Strike, now, at 13, she’s an activist, organizer, and speaker.
Her impact: Haven’s name ended up in headlines when she implored Colorado Senator Cory Gardner to take climate change seriously, pleading “if all you need is more information, I can come visit the energy committee and do a PowerPoint for you.” Later, that video caught the attention of Al Gore, who invited her to be part of 24 Hours of Reality, a day of T.V. programming on climate change. The U.S. Youth Climate Strike happened nationwide in March 2019, and Coleman co-wrote about it for Teen Vogue.
Where to find her: Haven tweets at @havenruthie.
Lily Gardner, Kentucky
Her cause: Lily is a 16-year-old Kentuckian who is one of the first Appalachian members of the Sunrise Movement. As she told The Guardian about growing up in Eastern Kentucky, “I couldn’t escape the generational poverty caused by the fossil fuel industry.”
Her impact: In February, Lily was among students who traveled to Mitch McConnell’s office in Washington, D.C. to confront him on the Green New Deal. At the event, Lily was a featured speaker, and later spoke at TEDxCorbin on the importance of youth advocacy and activism. “When I hear 'Which Side Are You On?' sung at environmental actions across the nation, I am reminded of Kentucky’s rich organizing history, too often overshadowed by its current political alignment,” Lily tells InStyle. “On September 20th, 500 Kentuckians of different backgrounds came together to demand environmental justice, reminding me of why I am hopeful. We, three high schoolers, were able to gather Appalachians, Indigenous leaders, black organizers, and many others to confront the climate crisis in a state with a governor who will not even acknowledge its existence. Equipped with the strength of unity and the necessary solutions, I’ve never been more confident that our state, and our nation, can fulfill our promise to posterity and tackle the greatest threat to my generation."
Helena Gualinga, Ecuador
Her cause: Seventeen-year-old Helena is from Sarayaku in the Amazon rainforest, and one of her core issues relates to wildfires increasing as climate change progresses. “I grew up with a constant fear that when I would go home, my community wouldn’t exist anymore,” she told Vice.
Her impact: Helena helped launch the Kawsak Sacha (or Living Forest Declaration) in 2018, which “proposes a legal recognition of the revindication for territorial rights and Mother Earth, which is necessary and essential for the balance of the planet and the preservation of life.” Helena attended the Global Climate Strike in New York, and works to amplify how indigenous communities are affected by climate change.
Where to find her: Helena is on Instagram @helenagualinga.
Amariyanna “Mari” Copeny, Michigan
Her cause: Known as Little Miss Flint, Mari has been on the frontlines of youth activism for years, advocating for clean water for Flint, Michigan.
Her impact: After Mari wrote him a letter in 2016, President Obama visited Flint and signed off on a $100 million repair plan for Flint’s water system (though the water still hasn’t been completely tested for safety). Since then, she continues to raise awareness for the necessity of clean water, advocate for her community (including an anti-bullying campaign and distribution of 15,000 stocked backpacks for local kids), and be a passionate voice on including young people in social and political moments. In September, she told Today, "My advice to girls is to always believe in yourself and in the work that you are doing, even if the work is hard and it sometimes feels impossible. You can do it. You can change the world right now. You don't have to wait until you grow up."
Kehkashan Basu, Toronto
Her cause: Kehkashan is the founder of the Green Hope Foundation, which works to educate and empower youth globally through community-centric projects related to renewable energy, climate justice, and promoting sustainable consumption.
Her impact: Kehkashan won the International Children’s Peace Prize in 2016, and is the first-ever minor to be elected to the Major Groups facilitating Committee in the United Nations Environment Program. At only 18, Kehkashan is also the youngest member of Canada’s Women in Renewable Energy Forum, and has spoken at over 75 United Nations and international summits. “Human apathy and economic greed are pushing our planet towards an environmental catastrophe. My generation is the last one that has the opportunity to take actions to reverse this wanton desecration before it is too late, and that is why it is so important for young people to raise their voices and demand a future that is just, equitable, and sustainable,” she tells InStyle.
Where to find her: Kehkashan is on Twitter @KehkashanBasu.
Alexandria Villaseñor, New York
Her cause: Alexandria is the founder of Earth Uprising, a global network for youth activists to connect, network, educate, and organize around climate change.
Her impact: Alexandria, age 14, picketed outside the United Nations headquarters for months as part of the school strikes for climate change movement (sometimes called the Fridays for Future movement). She is a plaintiff in Children vs. Climate Crisis, where 16 kids from around the world are petitioning the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to hold the world’s biggest economic powers accountable for climate change. “Since climate change will be affecting my generation the most with the trajectory we're on, it's important to try and get action, especially from our world leaders and government officials,” she told Teen Vogue in March.
Where to find her: Alexandria is on Twitter @AlexandriaV2005.
With reporting by Erin Glover.