Climate change activism is fast becoming a full-time occupation, especially for determined youth climate activists disrupting the often exclusionary climate narrative.
A harmonious relationship with the environment is an integrated, natural way of life for Indigenous communities around the world, existing long before modern movements and research. The need for activism as we know it arises from a capitalist mindset that sees land, ocean and natural resources as property to own, and a bottomless supply for human-centric activities. As the climate emergency only grows in urgency, everyday global citizens take up the mantle of fearless campaigners, advocates, and youth climate activists to innovate solutions, initiate collective perspective shifts and support nature’s regeneration.
It should be acknowledged that the environmental and climate crisis conversation is a globally interconnected and collaborative one, not represented by one language, nationality, political ideology or identity. A shining embodiment of this is the September 20th, 2019 climate strike – the largest in history, youth-led and involving an estimated 4 million strikers around the globe. The movement continues to resonate with people from all walks of life and gain support as we recognise the climate crisis as a human crisis, one that disproportionately impacts the marginalised, underrepresented and historically colonized. Climate justice is racial justice, it is Indigenous, disability, Global South, LGBTQ+ justice, representation and inclusion. Earth is the common thread weaving through the fabric of human identity, and her peril transcends borders.
There are countless climate activists and defenders to share the good and the bad news with, to spur hope and action, and stay updated and connected with – all the way from your local neighborhood to international communities. These youth climate activists are not content with waiting until it’s too late to change our future. We share just a few inspiring trailblazers, community leaders, youth mobilizers and environmental warriors you should be following. Be part of the movement, too.
Aged 16, Marinel survived the devastation of Haiyan in the Philippines, a super typhoon killing thousands and destroying everything in its path. Having witnessed the climate crisis firsthand, she has since dedicated herself to climate activism and accountability, continuing to call for global action and justice for her community. One of the 2018 organizers of the Philippines’ first-ever youth climate activist strike, Marinel went on to participate in a hearing by the Philippines Commission on Human Rights as a community witness in an investigation into corporate responsibility and the climate impacts as a violation of human rights. She continues to speak on panels and at events.
Archana is one of seven Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change members, established by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as a part of the UN Youth Strategy. Championing the role of Indigenous people and practices in climate change and tirelessly working to bring them into the climate narrative, she works to “document, preserve, and promote traditional knowledge” and culture with Archana herself belonging to the Khadia tribe of Odisha, an eastern Indian state.
3. Daphne Frias
Climate justice warrior and gun violence prevention youth activist Daphne is a West Harlem native, proudly disabled and a passionate advocate for disability rights. In a recent interview she points out, “Those of us with disabilities are some of the most affected by the climate crisis” noting in another interview, “Latin-American and disabled communities are both under-represented in eco-activism” and was a spokesperson during New York City’s climate strikes in 2019. She believes in the power of youth to rally for a better world.
Hilda has long been campaigning and protesting against climate change as she witnessed her home village in Masaka district, Uganda suffer at the hands of the global warming crisis as land was stripped by unpredictable, dangerous weather and food became scarce. At the start of 2019 she founded Uganda’s Fridays for Future movement that swept the nation’s youth, going on to speak at the C40 Summit, an event facilitating the sharing of best practices and innovations from cities all over the world. Passionate about gender equality in environmentalism, she notes in an interview, “We need every woman on board fighting for their lives. The climate crisis has no borders.”
5. Pattie Gonia
Queer environmentalist Pattie Gonia disrupts the exclusionary, heternormative outdoor industry by ‘bringing drag and diversity outdoors’. In an Instagram post, Pattie states “there is no environmental justice until we can learn to ally each other and combat social justice issues together.” Educator and photographer Wyn Wiley created the world’s first backpacking queen, whose name is a wordplay on the iconic brand Patagonia, as a fun way to advocate and campaign for authentic diversity in the outdoor community.
Chair of Sudan’s Youth Organization on Climate Change, fellow Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change member Nisreem recently told the UN Security Council’s open debate on climate and security to “Stop conflict by stopping climate change”. After learning more about climate change she saw the interconnected nature of the wider climate crisis and her home of Sudan. Nisreem is also a junior negotiator at intergovernmental climate change platforms, aiming to “bridge the gap between the big donors and youth movement” and build trust in order for youth climate activists to have financial access and backing to run projects.
An advocate for the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Hindou hails from the Mbororo pastoralist community in Chad. integrating indigenous people and knowledge into the climate conservation and solution. For this, in 2019 she was awarded the Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award and is a member of an impressive array of committees and forums. “For us, the reality is that just one seasonal change can impact the life of the entire community“, explaining that migration out of Chad makes them vulnerable to conflicts and leaves heavy burdens on women and children left behind. Now they are “trying to show that this climate change migration is linked to insecurity”.
8. Xiye Bastida
Witnessing the impact of climate change growing up in Mexico, climate justice activist Xiye moved to New York to support her resolute advocacy and campaigning. She is one of the main organizers of Fridays for Future and for NYC’s 2019 climate strike. In an inspiring video feature, Xiye notes that “the refugee crisis is definitely the human face of the climate crisis”. In a 2020 TED talk, Xiye reads a letter to her grandmother and reflects upon the climate action and wisdom passed down to her through family and the urgent structural change the world needs.
Founder of the Rise Up Movement, Vanessa began researching the connection of climate change and increasingly hotter temperatures in Kampala, explaining in a recent interview that the 1.2C rise in temperature brings “severe droughts, floods and storms” and this rise is “already hell”. A passionate advocate for equal representation in the movement, Vanessa experienced environmental racism after being cut from a photo and barely mentioned in press coverage of 2020’s World Economic Forum in Davos. Her first encounter with racism and in such a public manner, Vanessa was compelled to help illuminate the erasure of people of colour in the climate narrative and felt responsible for “amplifying their voices”.
Aged just 12 Mya-Rose was already writing a ‘Birding Tales’ column for a local newspaper, having spent her life dedicated to the study and love of birds. In 2016 the British-Bangladeshi ornithologist took her passion for equal rights to the next level with the founding of Black2Nature, a not-for-profit providing access to nature for youth from VME communities (Visible Minority Ethnic). In 2020 Mya-Rose became the youngest person to ever receive an honorary doctorate from Bristol University in science, and continues to advocate and campaign for racial, environmental and climate justice.
11. Varshini Prakash
Varshini is unstoppably passionate about the Green New Deal, having released a book explaining it in more detail and featuring essays from the likes of Naomi Klein and Rev William Barber II. She is a co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement in 2015 – a movement of youth campaigning, training and advocating to stop climate change and ‘create millions of good jobs in the process’. Varshini describes seeing the flooding in Indian state Tamil Nadu, where much of her family hails from, as the spark for the creation of the powerful environmental movement harnessing the climate crisis angst of youth and transforming it into action.
A Han Gwich’in and Oglala Lakota climate activist, together with her mother Jody Potts Quannah tirelessly works to raise awareness and protect her sacred homeland from oil extraction – in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, which is the US’s largest untouched wilderness. She sits on the Gwich’in Steering Committee, the International Gwich’in Youth Council and was a speaker at the 2019 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. Speaking in an interview, Quannah highlighted “Indigenous voices, experiences, and perspectives are not included enough in the climate change discourse.”
13. Tiza Mafira
Tiza is an environmental law activist working to ban plastic waste in Indonesia, co-founding the community-based organisation Gerakan Indonesia Diet Kantong Plastik (Plastic Bag Diet Movement) where she remains as an Executive Director. The GIDKP’s 2015 petition against retailers using plastic bags resulted in a 55 percent reduction in usage, after a plastic bag charge was trialled six months earlier. Tiza’s relentless campaigning and awareness-raising to be ‘wiser in using plastic bags’ earned her a place as one of the 2018 UN Ocean Heroes, alongside other climate activists. She is also an Associate Director at Climate Policy Initiative.
14. Jamie Margolin
Jamie is a queer, Jewish, Latina youth mobilizer and a founder of intersectional youth movement This Is Zero, supporting new climate activists and organisers with ‘entry points, training and resources’. Speaking to Vox, she cited her family in Colombia affected by fracking and the defenders of the Amazon as the fuel for her climate fight. In 2019 Jamie testified before congress during the house hearing on climate change, alongside other youth climate activists Vic Barrett, Benji Backer and Greta Thunberg.
Executive Director of UPROSE, the oldest Latino community-based organisation in Brooklyn, Elizabeth is a Puerto Rican attorney and environmental and climate justice leader and co-chairs the Climate Justice Alliance. With an impressive working history in a number of regional and national positions, she was chosen as the opening speaker for the first White House Forum on Environmental Justice. Elizabeth is an instrumental community leader and continues to spotlight the intersection of racial justice and the climate crisis in the environmental conversation.
First generation Salvadoran-American Claudia is ‘on a journey to decolonize conservation & environmentalism’, working as the Sustainability Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, California. Her work centers on environmental identity and creating space in the conversation for BIPOC community members to have their voices represented in policies from local to national levels.
Poet and artist born in the Marshall Islands and raised in Hawai’i, Kathy performed her poem “Dear Matafele Peinem” to her 7 month old daughter during the opening ceremony for the 2014 UN Climate Summit. Kathy serves as the Climate Envoy for the Marshall Islands government whilst directing the nonprofit she co-founded, Jo-Jikum, to empower local youth to be the changemakers battling climate and environmental crises that the Pacific Islands are on the frontline of.
18. Kristal Ambrose
In 2013 ocean plastic warrior Kristal founded The Bahamas Plastic Movement, where she engaged with local youth in a variety of programs aimed to empower and educate them as climate activists. As she continued with outreach and advocacy, Kristal drafted legislation to share with the government and took her students to talk with the environment minister in 2018. In 2020 the bill to ban Styrofoam, plastic cutlery, straws and bags was officially adopted and enforced and she was recognised with a 2020 Goldman Prize Recipient Islands and Island Nations.