Kids From All Around the World Have an Urgent Message for Adults on the Fate of Our Planet

Call it the sit-in heard around the world.
Greta Thunberg, a ninth-grader from Sweden, began protesting her country’s lack of action on the issue of climate change last summer. Thunberg sat on the steps outside of the Swedish parliament in Stockholm holding a protest sign, one small 15-year-old against some of the most powerful industries and political forces on the planet. “The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe — it doesn’t exist today,” Thunberg, since nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, told The New Yorker. “We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on.”
Thunberg may not be a politician (yet), but her words have helped kickstart a global student movement, if not an all-out war, against the fossil fuel–guzzling status quo. On Friday, March 15, youth all over the globe walked out of school and took to the streets to raise awareness of the all-too-inconvenient, all-too-easily-skirted issue of climate change. An estimated 1.6 million students in more than 300 cities joined the protests, geographically dispersed but united under a single hashtag: #FridaysforFuture.
Protests in New York rolled out over the five boroughs, attracting students of all ages, though the younger ones were chaperoned by parents and teachers. A few thousand mostly high school–aged students in Manhattan gathered first at Columbus Circle, then walked up Central Park West to the Museum of Natural History. On the front steps of the museum, they unfurled signs with slogans like THERE IS NO PLANET B and chanted “Climate change is not a lie / We won’t let our planet die!”
NationSwell joined the protesters, seeking answers to one critical question: How do you think we can fix climate change and save the planet?
One of the youngest protesters, a kindergartner named Nico Pascarella from the nearby Hudson Valley, was accompanied by his mom. He was aware of some of the problems caused by a changing climate, if a little short on actual solutions. “There’s trash in the ocean,” Nico said. “It can kill the animals, and if we throw out straws, the turtles can die.”
Lucy Blum, a sophomore at Beacon High School in Manhattan, told NationSwell, “We’re going to grow up in this world, so we need to make it the way we want it.”
Some students were more blunt. Anthony Prudent, a 10th-grader from Laguardia High School in Manhattan, had a message for adults not present at the protest and/or in denial about the catastrophic implications of global warming: “Show your fucking selves!” He went on, “Sorry to be selfish, but I want to have a future. Also, elect people who listen to people and not to their wallets.”
Zero Hour NYC is a climate-justice nonprofit that helped organize the protest. Natalie Sweet, a sophomore at Horace Mann in the Bronx, volunteers with Zero Hour NYC and said that these strikes were an important first step, but that much more needs to be done by our government. “The IPCC [says that] we have 12 years to live, which is backed by science-based evidence,” Sweet said of the global-warming report released last year by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“We need reminders like these climate strikers to help push forward legislation, like a 100 percent switch to renewable energy by 2050,” Sweet added. The strikes are only as important as what happens afterwards. Call lawmakers and tell them the facts. It’s a bipartisan issue — it doesn’t take [just] Democrats or Republicans. To show that we have a common goal is an extremely powerful thing.”
Ajani Stella, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Hunter College High School in Manhattan, is already an experienced activist. He runs his own informational website and is also a youth advisory board member of the Human Impact Institute. “We need to divest from fossil fuels now. By keeping our money in them, we’re basically saying that we don’t care,” Stella said. “Well, stop not caring!”
Stella said that when he grows up, he wants to be a climate engineer and work on designs for an electric aircraft. “Batteries are heavy, but so is gasoline,” he said. “Once we switch to a clean-energy grid, the transportation sector will be close to zero emissions. Events like these make me hopeful that the next generation of voters and politicians are going to work to fix [climate change].”
The next youth-led global protests are scheduled to take place on May 3. Keep up with the latest news on the strikes here, and watch NationSwell’s video above to learn about what solutions the next generation has to fight climate change.

Meet the Delaware Teen Fighting for the Rights of Former Juvenile Offenders

“I could have never imagined that something as severe as incarceration would happen to someone like me, until it did,” said Jane Lyons, recalling the path that led her neighbor to the local detention center.
Lyons, 18, grew up in an affluent Delaware suburb outside of Wilmington. A few miles down the road from her home sits Ferris School for Boys, a juvenile detention center she admits gave her an “eerie” feeling driving past.
It was only when her childhood neighbor was sent to Ferris on drug charges that the center became more than an abstract concept for Lyons. Her neighbor had come from the same affluent background as her, but after experiencing family problems became addicted to drugs and involved in a local gang.
Her neighbor’s incarceration was a wakeup call to Lyons about the difficulties facing former juvenile offenders as they try to rebuild their lives. “[Teens at Ferris] feel as if society is stacked against them,” she explained at a recent TEDxYouth event. “They simply think that our world is waiting for them to make a mistake.”
With this in mind, as a freshman in high school she teamed up with her brother Patrick to launch Youth Overcoming Obstacles, a nonprofit dedicated to lifting up formerly incarcerated youth. The organization started small — gathering donations of books, school supplies, clothes and other essentials to make sure teens’ basic needs were met as they exited the detention center. They eventually moved on to organizing larger fundraisers to send the young men to summer camp, vocational training, and even to provide a down payment on one family’s apartment.
“This started as an act of kindness and now has become a passion project to replace the recidivism cycle with a resilient path to a brighter future for teens who want to continue positive change,” Lyons told NationSwell.
Youth Overcoming Obstacles was so successful at raising funds and awareness to support formerly incarcerated youth that the Delaware Legislature adopted their re-entry fund after a year and a half. Now Lyons is working on a pilot program that offers financial training to these young people to help them transition into the workforce.
Teens have a vital role to play in improving their communities, says Lyons. “My advice to other young people is to follow your heart and have the courage to reach out to community leaders and public officials with your plan of action,” she told NationSwell.
“It may take some persistence, but they really do want to hear your ideas, and they will help if they can.”
Homepage photo via TEDx Talks.

While Her Peers Stand Idle, This Teen Activist Fights for the Earth

Kelsey Juliana is proof that you’re never too young or too busy to save the planet.
The 18-year-old environmentalist activist is a co-plaintiff for the Oregon TRUST (a nonprofit fighting climate change for future generations), who is suing the state of Oregon “to take a more aggressive stance against the carbon emissions warming the earth and destroying the environment.” It’s a cause she’s been fighting for since the tender age of 15.
The impressive teen — who is also walking across America to bring awareness to global warming — recently sat down with journalist Bill Moyers on his show. The host marveled that when most kids her age are reading “The Hunger Games,” this young lady is delving into legal briefs about public doctrine.
During a poignant portion of the interview at the 4:30 mark below, Moyers asks, “Do some of your friends in high school think you’re weird [for your activism]?”
Juliana responds, “No. They seem to all support me but not join me, which is almost worse than not supporting me, you know, because they get it. And they don’t do anything.”
MORE: What Happens When a 13-Year-Old Girl Takes on an Oil Company?
What she says is completely true. Thanks to the proliferation of smart phones and social media, America’s youth is probably more informed about worldly issues than ever (just think of the virality of #BringBackOurGirls or the ALS #IceBucketChallenge). And while using a hashtag to promote a cause certainly helps, ultimately, actions speak much louder.
With warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and toxic air, we cannot afford to stand idle. Especially, the people who will be inheriting the earth.
As Juliana says, “I think that’s so important that people my age really get [that] into their heads. As a younger person, I have everything to gain from taking action and everything to lose from not… It’s important that youth are the ones who are standing up because of the fact that we do have so much to lose.”

DON’T MISS: When it Comes to the Planet, Children (Not the Government) Really Are the Future

When it Comes to the Planet, Children (Not the Government) Really Are the Future

Warmer temperatures. Rising sea levels. Toxic air. Overflowing landfills. The world our children will inherit has taken quite a beating.
So with lawmakers unable to agree on plans to cut carbon, children are taking matters into their own hands.
In an inspiring (and ridiculously adorable) video from Good Will Students for Peace, students from Lincoln Avenue School in Orange, New Jersey aren’t just learning the basics of reducing, reusing and recycling.
With this semester’s theme, “My Home is the Planet Earth, Our Role as Environmentally Aware Citizens,” students are taking action and becoming leaders in their local community. Students upcycle paper, plastic bottles, cans and cardboard rolls, plus each classroom also has their own perennial garden.
MORE: How One School Is Using the Forest to Improve Education
They also really get their hands dirty with community clean-ups. In the video, one student poignantly points out after one such project, “To the people who didn’t participate in this activity…you should have, ’cause it was actually a fun experience.”
She adds, “This is your community — not just mine. We all live here and other people would like to live here but can’t because of the way we treat our community.” (Don’t you just want to give her a hug?)
It’s not just the kids in New Jersey who are taking charge in saving the planet. It’s happening all over the country. As Al-Jazeera America reported last month, children as young as 13 are tying to sue the U.S. government for violating their constitutional rights for failing to develop a climate change recovery plan.
The suit — dubbed Kids vs. Global Warming — is backed by more than 30 climate scientists and legal scholars. The complaint reads, “The welfare of youth is directly affected by the failure of government to confront human-made climate change, and unless the government acts immediately to rapidly reduce carbon emissions … youth will face irrevocable harm: the collapse of natural resource systems and a largely uninhabitable nation.”
Looks like children can teach us a thing or two.