Highlighting leaders of the youth climate movement
by Ceci Yeh | September 27, 2023
Activists protest from the Portland Youth Climate Strike from September 2023. Photo by PYCS.
Coming to Crag as a high school intern, I was inexperienced in the world of youth climate activism. It was a world I was blind to. As my eyes were opened, I realized that youth climate activism was an immense issue that I wanted to help publicize. So I researched leaders who were creating change on the painstakingly long road of climate justice. I also reached out to part of the Sunrise Movement and the Portland Youth Climate Strike who could provide me insight on the issue. I listened in awe to their stories, disappointed in myself for not hearing their cries. However, even as I expressed this, one thing resonated with me. It was never too late. Now, I want to educate you all on the importance of climate justice and what you can do about it.
From experience, I know making changes on your own; even the small things like confronting my mom about letting me have a later bedtime, can be difficult. I knew that someone had to lead the charge on climate activism. The first name that came to mind was Greta Thunberg. She was, of course, the queen of youth climate activism and so that is where I started.
Greta Thunberg speaks at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit
I began by first rewatching the iconic speech of Greta Thunberg at the 2019 UN Climate Action Summit. In front of full governments, business leaders, subnational actors, indigenous peoples, youth and other civil society stakeholders she was powerful and held herself high. One quote that stuck out to me is as follows, “we are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.” I loved how she challenged all of the powerful faces in the room, forcing them to look the issue in the face. I was in awe of the effect she caused, it was as if her voice silenced all opposing voices.
Greta Thunberg with a school strike for climate sign
Greta Thunberg used anecdotes, how she should be in school, living a normal carefree life of a child rather than taking on the pressure of the Earth’s survival. The way she held all world leaders and adults in general accountable for forcing her to lose out on the childhood she wishes she could still live was inspiring and I wanted to know more. As I surfed through the millions of articles on Greta, another name was linked below, Xiye Bastida.
Xiye Bastida (right) at a Stockholm climate march
Xiye Bastida is a Mexican climate activist and member of the Indigenous Otomi community. Her background and enthusiasm made me realize I had to research more into her. I discovered that at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference Xiye Bastida spoke to the issue of climate change. She said,“Instead of trying to fix the damage prior generations have caused, we are adding to harm every day we fail to act, which represents a deep ethical immortality, an immorality of disconnect with the place we call home.” She demands for the saving of not just Earth, but of our home and our lives. I found the message empowering, finding myself nodding along to her words, riled up and ready to fight for our planet.
Xiye Bastida speaks at the 2021 UN Climate Change Conference
In her speech, Xiye calls for everyone to relate to the following words: “I am in a critical moment in history in which I have a stake in the future of the planet. I will be respectful and responsible enough to listen to the generations of the future and to the best of available science, and do everything in my power to leave this world better than I found it.”
She speaks to world leaders, to all countries, to every government official, to every individual person. It is essential, she demands, that we act on what we know needs to happen. All of these global leaders were inspiring and as much as I would have loved to talk with them, I knew I had to have realistic expectations. I knew that someone in Oregon had to be doing something similar. I reached out to a couple of co-workers at Crag before stumbling upon the Portland Youth Climate Strike and JJ Klein-Wolf.
As the executive co-lead of the Portland Youth Climate Strike, JJ Klein-Wolf works in everything from helping to plan protests, to managing outreach to community partners by providing support to those who cannot get it, specifically middle and high school students. She is open to anyone who wants to take a stance against climate change and is prepared to support you however you need supporting. Better yet, I was able to speak with JJ on the work she’s doing right now!
JJ Klein-Wolf, Portland Youth Climate Strike Co-Lead
In my interview with JJ, she made the following statements about climate change: “Climate change is such a larger issue of inequality and injustice to all of disproportionately affected communities… Climate change is an issue of humanity. We’re living in this crisis of inability to recognize the humanity and the existence of one another. Once we realize that the policies and decisions that we make towards negative environmental infrastructure are not just impacting the planet but the people who live on the planet there is going to be a lot more affected work done.”
Portland Youth Climate Strike organizers, including former Crag intern Jacob Glass (right), holding megaphones during the climate strike
Her words resonated with me; it was a fundamental issue of humanity that we couldn’t recognize that we’re all the same and if we want to survive as a species, we need to set aside the skin deep differences in our society and instead look at the bigger picture. However, it was also saddening to hear the thought from someone of JJ’s age. It was a statement I would want to hear from a government official, and yet, I was listening to a young woman, the same age as me, be more socially accepting than some government officials.
Klein-Wolf tells me that she loves what she does. She loves the community it builds and the change they are creating together. As a passionate environmentalist, she urges others to join the movement and to read and have an open mindset when it comes to change for the world. You can reach her and the rest of Portland Youth Climate Strike at portlandyouthclimatestrike[at]gmail.com. And make sure to head to their website to learn more and follow them on social media.
From my research, there was one thing I found in common with all of these individuals. They are youth, fighting for their future and the future of the generations to follow. They are passionate about what they want, and instead of asking nicely as many have tried in the past, they demand change from those who can effectively help them. So, whether on a global or local level, the leaders of climate justice everywhere are there and will continue to make their presence known to everyone in order to inspire change and spread the sense of urgency to the idea that climate change is threatening the Earth and our very existence.
Ceci Yeh was a 2023 Communications and Development intern for Crag. She is a student at Westview Highschool. She enjoys learning about all things literature and law.