Staff Ed: Is it getting hot in here? Young activists tackle climate change

Sixteen-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg captured the world’s attention this month after an emotional speech at the 2019 UN climate action summit. Thunberg told world leaders, “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words.” Thunberg’s sentiments resonated with a generation of young people who feel powerless in the face of world leaders’ relative inaction on climate change. Her popularity provides hope that young people can make a difference by becoming vocal about this issue. 

And Thunberg is not alone. Many young people are dedicating their lives to climate activism and getting results. Fifteen-year-old Autumn Peltier started fighting for indigenous water rights in Canada after seeing a “toxic water” sign on a reservation. After getting the attention of prime minister Justin Trudeau, Peltier’s efforts have removed 87 of Canada’s water advisories, with 56 still remaining. Twelve-year-old Mari Copeny, meanwhile, brought attention to the Flint water crisis by writing a letter to President Obama at eight years old. Since then, she has worked with a water filtration company to bring clean water to disenfranchised communities. With young activists making tangible impacts across the world, it begs the question how we, as college students, can do the same. 

It is important, for one, to act in response to Thunberg’s message, rather than just praising her. Last week, 6 million people across the world protested climate change in a massive expression of frustration at world leaders’ inaction on the issue. Organizers said, “It was the biggest ever climate mobilisation, and it’s only the beginning.” Participation in events like these is indispensable, but it is also important to be aware of more focused environmental restoration efforts, such as that of Peltier and Copeny. Activism, whether in reaction to worldwide climate change or smaller-scale environmental problems, is the most powerful weapon against environmental degradation. 

It also does not hurt to reduce your carbon footprint. A great way to do this is by using the “Cool Climate Carbon Footprint Calculator,” which can be found at The calculator was designed by researchers at UC Berkeley to recommend green living practices that are customized for an individual’s income and living situation. It recommends the most ecologically beneficial things a person can do that are within their capabilities. 

But while changing one’s lifestyle is helpful, it remains that corporations and governments are the main culprits behind climate change. Aiding activism with local and national focuses is more effective way of fighting climate change than monitoring your lifestyle. Like Thunberg, Peltier and Copeny, we must stand up and demand change if we want to preserve a healthy environment.