Those of you who receive our Newsletter will already know about the work the Democracy Center in engaged with to make the case that climate change is, most urgently, about our children. As Jim Shultz wrote in our latest edition,
“It is a given now that our children will become adults and will raise their children in a world where draught threatens food supplies, where floods destroy communities, and where more and more extreme weather patterns claim lives (see the Democracy Center’s new multimedia site on climate change in Bolivia here). We are set on a course toward a devastating environmental future.”
But children and young people cannot afford to be passive observers to their fate, and across the globe the younger generation are using their passion, energy and creativity to challenge the status quo and campaign on issues local and global, large and small, for a safer and more just future. We witnessed this recently in Bolivia making a film with teenagers about the impacts of climate change here and their role in confronting it (more on this coming very soon…).
Chloe Maxmin has been a committed environmental activist for many years – and she is still only 20. Now a Harvard student, and the founder of an organization connecting young activists worldwide, she took a few moments to share with us some of the important lessons she has witnessed in the struggle so far for her generation’s climate future.
Maddy Ryle – Communications Director
Talking About My Generation: Lessons from a Young Life in Activism
by Chloe Maxmin
Climate change is the defining issue of my generation. My peers and I are the ones who will face the major effects of rapid climatic shifts, and we are the ones who must find solutions. This may seem like an unsolvable challenge, but we have the tools to mitigate climate change and provide a healthy, safe, socially just future for all.
The environmental movement is vibrant and growing rapidly across the world. I personally began my environmental activist journey eight years ago, when I was 12. I joined a campaign in my home state, Maine, to oppose a massive development proposal for Maine’s North Woods. I brought this campaign to my high school and founded the Climate Action Club. Our mission was to provide opportunities for people in our school and community to be green. We began with basic projects like an energy audit and recycling. We applied for grants, and slowly our projects grew. We expanded into the community and worked with local schools and organizations. The CAC distributed 3800 reusable bags throughout our town, and we won a large grant that enabled us to install solar panels on our high-school. We were even featured on the Sundance Channel and won national and international recognition.
The CAC started out as a small eco-club in the middle of Maine, and our work spread around the world. This was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I wanted to share this message of empowerment with other youth, and so I founded First Here, Then Everywhere. The goal of FHTE is to unite young environmentalists and spread the message that one person can make a difference, and one person can change the world. Youth-led initiatives are featured on the site to show the many ways in which our generation is working to mitigate climate change.
In retrospect, I think that there are a few reasons why the CAC grew quickly and completed so many successful campaigns. These strategies can be summarized with a simple acronym:
First, convenience: we provided opportunities for people to be green. We made it easy, affordable, and fun. People did not have to go out of their way to recycle batteries or cartridges, acquire a reusable bag, or save energy. We put recycling buckets in convenient locations, and we brought those buckets to the recycling station. We designed, purchased, and distributed reusable bags throughout our town. We installed energy-saving devices in our school.
Love: Each person in the CAC was committed and deeply passionate. We were willing to sacrifice our time in order to help our school and community. We also approached our campaigns with empathy towards each stakeholder and group that we worked with. We sought to find common ground in everyone’s pursuit to save our planet.
Innovation: Our campaigns and strategies were built for and with our community. For example, we originally wanted to tax the use of plastic bags in our town, modeling on other effective campaigns around the world. But merchants in our town did not like this approach because they regarded the logo on their plastic bags as an important marketing tool. Instead of threatening what the merchants valued, we created a viable alternative: a unique reusable bag for our town that featured the logos of local sponsors.
Meaning: We held many community forums so that people could lend their input. This way our campaigns could be the most compelling and effective in our town, having real meaning and value for the local community. People felt invested in the campaigns – they were a point of pride. By including everyone, a green movement spread throughout our community.
Action: The CAC provided opportunities for people to be green so that they could act easily. Action creates sustainable change and lasting habits.
Timeliness: our campaigns were pertinent and relevant. Our reusable bag campaign built off the momentum of other anti-plastic bag movements around the world. We initiated a “No Idling” campaign after we heard of other local schools adopting similar policies.
Education: All of our campaigns maintained education at the core. We did extensive research, created fact sheets, and pamphleted outside of local stores. With our “No Idling” campaign, we talked to drivers who were idling and handed out educational materials. People understood why it was important to alter behaviors and habits.
I am now a sophomore at Harvard College. I have opportunities here that I never had in Maine. I have met more leaders, activists, educators, and scientists that have inspired me to work even harder and explore new areas of activism. I have been able to join different protests – something I had never done before. I learn about environmental policy and the legislative process, working with Senators and Representatives in the Massachusetts legislature to organize a Green Economy Caucus. I learn an enormous amount from interacting with the political world and understanding different perspectives on climate change. Yes, I want renewable energy now. But what are politicians thinking? How do they perceive environmentalists? I have realized the importance of being exposed to these many facets of environmentalism. It has enabled me to understand different interests and motivations, which are the key to more effective and engaging campaigns.
Anyone can get involved and make a difference. The climate movement depends upon individual actions. We should be mindful of our impact on the Earth, educate ourselves and our neighbors about climate change, and join local environmental groups. People in the US can call on elected officials to fight for meaningful effective environmental policies. Politicians will act when they know that their constituents want change.
A current campaign is focused on cutting fossil fuel subsidies. There are a few organizations that are working on this campaign, including 350.org. It has also recently become a big news topic. Many of the campaigns are just starting to pick up steam because there has been an emphasis on education: organizations are gathering data about fossil fuel subsidies and why Americans must oppose further federal support. The campaign is also dependent on individuals taking action and people collectively using their voice to call for change.
People all around the world are working to ensure a healthy planet and social justice for all. But we are far from achieving this goal. As each individual on Earth feels the effects of a changing world, humanity will turn to me, to my friends, to my peers, to my generation to find solutions for the future. The seeds of these solutions lie in the effectiveness with which we learn to engage the public right now.
About the author: Chloe Maxmin’s goal is to make climate change the defining issue of her generation. She is currently a Freshwoman at Harvard College pursuing a degree in Environmental Science and Public Policy, but she deferred a year to travel and study in South America and China to learn about environmentalism in those regions. She founded the Climate Action Club at her high school. The club galvanized and led a green movement in her school and the surrounding mid-coast Maine community. She also founded First Here, Then Everywhere. FHTE connects young environmentalists around the world and provides tools and platforms for youth activism on environmental issues.