Voices of Youth: Climate Activists

Cheyanne Rico

Back in March, Corvallisites came together to protest humanity’s negligence toward our planet. Gathering on Oregon State University’s Memorial Union quad, our area’s youth sought to change national and local mindsets and policies with powerful words from speakers, songs of justice, and a large march to finish off the function. While the strike itself was successful and powerful, the event carried a deeper, larger message about the world’s youth: when young people are given the necessary tools and platform, they can help solve prodigious, complicated issues that are otherwise ignored by those in power. 

Swedish 16-year-old, Greta Thunberg set the global Youth Climate Strike in motion when she began protesting government apathy toward Earth’s climate crisis in front of the Swedish parliament every week since August 2018. Her commitment to protest for the planet inspired other youth around the world, and resulted in the international Youth Climate Strike. 

Planning the Strike
Among local youth who partook in the event was Cheyanne Rico. Rico is an OSU fourth-year undergrad studying Natural Resources with a focus in Sustainable Food Systems and Agroecology, accompanied by a minor in Soil Science. The Roseburg native enjoys practicing circus arts, backpacking, gardening, and advocating for important issues in her spare time. Rico heard about the Youth Climate Strike only a week before it was set to take place. She quickly rushed to create a Facebook page to inform other Corvallisites about the event before contacting the Sunrise Corvallis chapter to get them involved. 

Sunrise, as Rico explained, is a national youth-led movement that advocates for climate action and the Green New Deal. The Green New Deal is a proposal spearheaded by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that aims to help both the climate and economic inequality in the U.S.

With the help of Sunrise and other OSU students, Rico was able to pull off the event. Hundreds of community members showed up to strike even though most were informed of it only a day or two before. The energy of the event was charged with a passion that electrified the speakers and audience in attendance. Corvallisites who attended set an inspiring example of how communities – specifically, the young people within them – can come together and create something powerful when given the opportunity.

Reasons to Act
Rico stated, “It’s important for young people to care about climate change, and really, all matters regarding the environment because we still have so much of our lives ahead of us. 

We’ll be the people most impacted by the effects of a changing climate and polluted environment; so, it’s of the utmost importance that we take these issues into our own hands and ensure we’ll have a safe and sustainable future for ourselves. Otherwise, no matter what else we do with our lives, we’re destined for failure with the projected consequences of our current trajectory.”

When asked what we can do as a society to combat climate change, Rico said that there is no easy answer. However, she does believe that what humanity really needs is a cultural change. 

“Our current way of life is not sustainable … I think it’s clear we need to divest from fossil fuels and support alternative energy sources, but we also need to decrease our energy consumption … We need a president that doesn’t believe climate change is a hoax, and everyone to take part in voting, eating local, biking more, supporting small progressive businesses, and taking care of our environment through responsible land-stewardship.”

She added that the U.S. in particular is causing drawbacks. 

“The U.S. uses more energy per capita than anywhere else in the world. We need to recognize this truth and offer reconciliation in a number of ways, but instead we are the only country that debates whether or not climate change even exists. We need to overcome these political barriers and acknowledge that we’re all in this together as one Earth, but it’s clear that this doesn’t agree with our current economy putting profits over people. This is our largest impediment toward a just future.”

Of course, Rico is not the only young person committed to creating a more sustainable environment. Among the attendees at the Youth Climate Strike was a Corvallis High School (CHS) junior, Nathan Vega, who read a few words from Greta Thunberg at the event and in general, acted as a source of enthusiasm for the crowd. 

Vega learned of the Youth Climate Strike from his P.E. teacher, Julie Williams, who encouraged him to speak at the event. The 17-year-old, who enjoys doing outside research on climate change and is a member of CHS’ Green Club, eagerly agreed to participate. 

Vega knows how important it is for the youth to take action for our planet: “We’re the ones who will be there later, so what we do now matters.”

To help our environment, he suggested, “Transitioning from a globalized society to a more localized society.” Essentially, if smaller areas – like Corvallis – focus on what they can do as one community, the climate crisis will seem less daunting and more manageable. This will ultimately lead to more people who feel that they can get involved and help. 

In his free time, Vega enjoys ultimate frisbee, playing the drums, volunteering at the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, and researching renewable energy. After high school, he plans to study biofuel energy, specifically charcoal production. 

Young People Can Change the World
Students like Rico, Vega, and Thunberg, who are devoted to our planet, are examples of the power that youth can have combating society’s most pressing social issues. The youth of today will live with the consequences of our current socio-political climate; this urgency is what drives them to get involved in events such as the Youth Climate Strike.

Greta Thunberg wrote in a public Facebook post on March 17, 2019, “We proved that it does matter what you do and that no one is too small to make a difference.” 

The Youth Climate Strike empowered young people around the globe to stand up and fight for their futures. No event, person, or voice is too small to have a lasting impact. The youth are proving that with every step taken to save our planet.

 

By Cara Nixon