By Emily Sohn
On a Saturday morning in February, eight teenagers sat around a conference table in Minneapolis. Many of their peers were sleeping in or playing sports, but these high-school students had weightier issues on their mind: climate change, the future, and what they could do to protect the planet.
The teens, members of Youth Environmental Activists of Minnesota (YEA! MN), had come to the group’s headquarters to prepare for the Youth Climate Justice Summit, an event in late February that would bring hundreds of youth activists to the State Capitol for conversations with legislators. They discussed effective communication strategies, like making eye contact, using hand gestures, and getting to the point. Then they practiced the “elevator pitches” they could use to convince other students to go to the summit.
Indigo Davitt-Liu, a sophomore at The FAIR School in Minneapolis, reminded the others that the event would give young people an opportunity to bring about change. “This is a very important time in our lives because climate change affects all of us,” Davitt-Liu said.
Inspired in part by Swedish teen climate activist Greta Thunberg, millions of young people around the world staged a youth climate strike last September, including thousands in Minnesota. But Minnesota youth were fighting for the environment before Thunberg entered the spotlight, and they’re still at it.
Major players include YEA! MN, which is hosted by the nonprofit Climate Generation, and the independent Minnesota Youth Climate Strike. The organizations share members and work together, says Jason Rodney, YEA! MN’s program coordinator.
When the pitches were done, Yony Pacheco, a junior at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Minneapolis, talked about wildfires in Australia, California, and the Amazon as examples of climate change already affecting the Earth. He doesn’t want his children and grandchildren to live in a world with frequent natural disasters and fewer resources, especially for minorities.
“If such young people are worrying about this, it is something we should all worry about,” Pacheco said. “Anything is possible if we work for our cause.”
Already, youth are making a difference. In the last couple of years, teen-driven achievements have included Mounds View Public Schools’ commitment to 100 percent clean electricity by 2030 and St. Louis Park’s commitment to a net zero carbon footprint city-wide by 2040.
Teenagers are leading the environmental movement, said Deja Woods, a sophomore at Cristo Rey.
“If we come together, there will be a better future for us and the generations after us,” she said.