Written by Alexis Rodrigo
Since Greta Thunberg gained worldwide fame at age 15, other climate youth activists have proliferated around the globe. Young people now have a seat at the table. They speak at climate conferences. They address, not just their peers, but also leaders and decision-makers.
But today’s youth climate activists are doing more than making public speeches, marching on streets or going on school strikes. They’re taking practical steps to address the climate crisis. And they’re making an impact.
In this article, you’ll meet four inspiring climate youth activists who are making a difference in their own communities.
They’ve experienced first-hand the negative effects of climate change
in their own lives, as well as the lives of other children, young people and their communities. Because of their involvement, World Vision helped them attend COP26, a global climate change conference, in 2021. They flew to Glasgow so their voices could be heard. But it’s their actions at home that speak the loudest.
Climate youth activist #1: Nomundari *, 16, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
Climate youth activist Nomundari from Mongolia addresses the United Nations General Assembly in 2019. “Instead of regretting, it is important to intensify our environmental protection,” she said. (Screen capture of a video by Christian Kage)
Nomundari became passionate about climate change after air pollution made her so sick she needed to stay in the hospital for one month.
“Climate change is making the problem even worse, as our winters get colder and we need to burn more coal to stay warm,” she explains. “People get coughs from the cold, and then the air pollution makes that worse. It’s all connected.”
Nomundari is not new to addressing adults in positions of power. She spoke at the United Nations in 2019 about the importance of addressing climate change and listening to children.
“I’m proving to the adults that kids are worth listening to,” she says.
But Nomundari says she’s frustrated: “two years later, not much has changed. There have been some things–our air in Mongolia, which once sent me to hospital–is a bit cleaner. But things like water have only become more critical.”
She points out that Mongolia is one of the 60 countries in the world with limited freshwater resources. Many of its counties have severe water quality problems. The high levels of calcium, magnesium, chlorine and sulfate in the water make it unsafe for drinking.
At home, Nomundari manages Fridays for Future in Mongolia. Fridays for Future is a youth-led climate strike movement inspired by Thunberg’s school strikes. With chapters in numerous countries, it aims to put pressure on policy makers to take necessary action against climate change. Nomundari also works with her school to ensure waste is properly sorted so it can be recycled.
Climate youth activist #2: Ruth*, 23, Baringo County, Kenya
In Kenya, Ruth’s demo site helps farmers learn how to use Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration to grow more food.
Ruth knows all too well how worsening drought is making life difficult and dangerous for children, especially girls.
“Because of climate change,” she says, “we have lost animals, crops, rivers dry up, people move from place to place looking for pasture and even some die because of famine.”
She adds that girls have to walk more than two miles looking for water, only to get back home and discover there’s nothing to eat.
However, things began to turn around when Ruth’s community learned about Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration
(FMNR) . FMNR is a method of revitalizing land by encouraging trees to grow on it. The result is land that’s more fertile, more resilient and more productive.
FMNR has enabled her community to grow enough food for their needs and to sell for extra income.
“Our rivers are starting to fill up, and people in my community have planted crops which help to feed their children,” Ruth says. “Now, we have food.”
And the ripple effects are astounding. “We are not missing school as our caregivers give us enough food, our performance has improved. We easily get firewood from [the] FMNR plot [and] get enough time to study and do homework,” she adds.
Because of this, Ruth has become an FMNR Champion in Kenya. Aside from raising awareness through videos and social media, she maintains an FMNR demo site where people can learn more about the method by seeing it first-hand.
Climate youth activists #3 and #4: Tenema* and Tejan*, 17, Bo, Sierra Leone
Tenema is one of the environmental activists in her hometown in Sierra Leone. She also raises awareness about other issues affecting children and youth. (Photo: Abdulai Kamara)
Tenema and Tejan were already active on child marriage, teen pregnancy and other issues before they became climate activists. While at a National Commission for Children event about the Sustainable Development Goals, they realized just how important climate change was.
“We recognized that a lot of the issues we’d been working on had been tied to climate change all along,” they said. “Climate change affects kids in every part of their lives–health, education, protection.”
Environmental activist, Tejan, fetches water from a hand-dug well next to his house in Sierra Leone. With these wells, young people no longer have to spend hours a day looking for water instead of studying. (Photo: Edward A. Renner)
In Sierra Leone, climate change has made both dry and wet seasons worse. Extreme rains drown out crops, and floods make it difficult to get to school. “Sometimes even if we students do show up, the teachers do not,” Tenema and Tejan say.
“In a storm a couple years ago, the winds tore the roof off a building, killing two of our classmates,” they recall.
In the dry season, rivers and lakes dry up. Crops suffer and what’s left is eaten by pests. The lack of water also affects their schooling. “Searching for water interferes with our school attendance, as we have to walk further and further to find sources,” they say. “Girls worry about their safety going long distances looking for water, too.”
To help, Tenema and Tejan are promoting the ‘cut 1, plant 2’ campaign. It’s a tree-planting program to increase the tree cover in Kenya. They’re also raising awareness about environmental issues through media. And they’re challenging chief and religious leaders, asking them what they’re doing about hunger and climate change.
The challenge for the rest of us
Climate youth activists are making impacts that are enough to put adults to shame. They didn’t create the problem, yet they’re making sure they’re part of the solution.
If there’s one thing we can learn from them, it’s that each of us has a role to play to fix our planet. Adults can help by giving young people the tools they need to increase awareness about climate issues and to implement practical solutions
Most of all, each of us must become a climate activist. Educate yourself on environmental issues. Share what you learn with others. Do what you can to help turn around this climate crisis.
Don’t know where to begin?
Just imagine Nomundari, Ruth, Tenema and Tejan standing before you asking, “What are you
doing to ensure we get the futures we deserve?”
What would you say ?
*We’ve omitted their last names to protect their privacy.