Emma Heins

I have been shocked the past few weeks. On any given week, I am struggling to get people to talk about climate change and its effects. People don’t want to talk about it because it is quite frankly terrifying, and I get that. That doesn’t mean I don’t try.

But the past few weeks have been different. Every time I get online, do you know what I’ve seen?

Greta Thunberg.

If you somehow haven’t seen anything about her, she’s a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. She began her rise to social media fame and international renown when she organized a climate strike at her school. She didn’t go to school for several weeks, and she sat outside of the Rikstag (the Swedish version of parliament) for three weeks during school hours because she wanted to convince legislators that they need to be reducing national carbon emissions to be in accordance with the Paris Climate agreement. (Reminder: President Trump announced the US would be pulling out of that agreement altogether at the earliest opportunity possible, which is in 2020.)

Since then, Thunberg has sailed across the Atlantic in a carbon-neutral boat, spoken at the UN Climate Action Summit and will be speaking in Chile later in the year.

Personally, I love this. People are talking about climate change more than ever before, and two weeks ago, climate strikes were hosted all over the world (including right here on campus by our very own SPEAK organization).

But is Greta Thunberg the first teenager to ever speak out about climate change? Absolutely not.

There are people in middle and high school all over the world that have been fighting for climate justice in their own communities that might not have the resources to pay for a carbon-neutral boat or the income and access in their community to be able to completely cut out eating meat, which ultimately highlights that being completely sustainable isn’t a real option for a lot of people.

And Greta Thunberg is white and from Scandinavia, the region of the world most well-known for its high standard of living. As much as she advocates for climate remediation, she does not and will not understand the effects of climate change as much as people in the global south and marginalized groups in the global north. People of color and people with a low socio-economic status more than deserve a place in the conversation, they require it.

Since most of us know about Greta Thunberg already, I want to give you all a few examples of amazing, world-changing teenagers of color that are raising the bar for climate advocacy:

Autumn Peltier (age 15) – When Autumn was only 14 years old, she was named the Chief Water Officer for the Anishinabek First Nation, located in northeastern Ontario in Canada. As young as eight years old, Peltier was going on community visits to areas that were under boil advisories because the water wasn’t safe to drink. She has spoken to the UN, met with the Canadian prime minister and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize.

Ridhima Pandey (age 11) – As a nine-year-old, Ridhima filed a petition against the national government of India, claiming the government neglected to enforce environmental laws and subjected Indian citizens to the effects of climate change. For two years, she and a team of lawyers did research and filed evidence about it. In January, the case was dismissed, but she believes the case was not given enough consideration. While most kids are in about the sixth grade, she is preparing to appeal to the Supreme Court System of India.

Amariyanna Copeny (age 11) – Known as “Miss Flint,” Amariyanna is most well-known for writing a letter to president Obama when she was just eight years old about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan (don’t forget, they still don’t have clean water). At age nine, she spoke at the “Stand Up to Trump” rally in front of the White House. She is responsible for over $27,000 in fundraising for kids in Flint to help with school supplies, clean water and medical bills. She’s far from done with that fight, so keep an eye out for her.

Emma Heins is a senior majoring in Environmental Studies. She can be reached ateheins@vols.utk.edu.

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