youth activists changing the world

10 Youth Activists Who Are (Literally) Changing The World

Here at Syrup, we strongly believe in substantive climate change action and like to bring you the most important stuff about what’s happening to the environment. Hell, we even had an office contingent to the last climate protest (colleagues that protest together do the most together).

Whilst it’s important to provide clear, accurate reporting about the environment and not sugar-coat the sometimes scary reality of climate change, it’s so easy to get depressed from the constant stream of negative news.

Read our piece on eco-positivity here.

When we chatted to climate activist and clinical psychologist Ruth Nelson about eco-anxiety, she imparted this wisdom on us: “You can’t do everything on your own.”

“Connect with like-minded people, because that’s where hope lies,” Nelson told Syrup. “On your own you can collapse into despair. Despair can paralyse us and make us turn away from the truth. Communication can help us face that truth.”

We couldn’t agree more. It’s inspiring to see people like us go out and make a difference. It’s heartening to see others taking action, because it inspires us to action, too. So, in that spirit, we’d like to shine a spotlight on some other young activists who are on the front lines of sustainability and climate change action.

P Brown

P Brown is a queer non-binary femme activist and poet originally from Kingston, Jamaica. Splitting their time between the East Coast of the U.S., Jamaica as well as travelling the world to speak about climate change and QTPoC wrights, Brown is one of the most inspirational young activists working today.

They’ve worked with organisations including the Better Future Project, SustainUS, Sunrise, and the Sierra Student Coalition, and had their work featured in Vice, Teen Vogue, Nowthis, Medium, Grist.org, and Ottar Magazine (talk about prolific!)

Much of Brown’s activism is rooted in the reality that Jamaica, like many island nations, is on the front line of climate change. Rising water levels and more aggressive weather conditions threaten island nations more readily than the rest of the world. Despite the doom and gloom, Brown remains an irrepressible and expressive voice, speaking up for minorities and the planet wherever they go.

Amelia Telford

From Bundjalung country in northern NSW, Amelia Telford is the National Director of the Seed Indigenous Youth Climate Network (Seed), a national grassroots movement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people campaigning for climate justice.

Telford’s always been dedicated to climate action. She even deferred uni to help develop a program through the Australian Youth Climate Coalition to support Indigenous young people to lead on climate action and run sustainability projects in their communities—a bit more meaningful than a European gap year!

She’s picked up a few gongs for her efforts, too—she was the National NAIDOC Youth of the Year in 2014, Bob Brown’s Young Environmentalist of the Year in 2015 and Australian Geographic’s Young Conservationist of the Year in 2015, too.

Telford and Seed are not only an important network in the youth fight against climate change, but serve as an inspirational reminder of what is possible through collective action.

“Climate change is one of the greatest threats facing humanity, but we also know it is an opportunity to create a more just and sustainable world,” Seed relates.

Autumn Peltier

It’s not just young Indigenous Australians who are further the climate change debate. Young First Nations activists across the world are at the forefront of environmental activism and a constant source of inspiration.

Autumn Peltier is a member of the Wikwemikong First Nation of Ontario, Canada, and is a guiding voice for water rights and clean water activism. She catapulted into the attention of international media outlets when she used a meeting with Justin Trudeau at a Canadian First Nations assembly as an opportunity to rebuke the Canadian Prime Minister for his failure to act on environmental policy.

She’s since become one of Canada’s highest-profile youth activists and was named the chief water commissioner by the Anishinabek Nation—the youngest person to have ever held such an important role.

Among other accolades, Peltier was nominated for an International Children’s Peace Prize and made the BBC 100 Women List in 2019. She’s an absolute water warrior and a deeply inspirational figure for activists around the world.

Felix Finkbeiner

I can confidently say that none of the many school reports I wrote throughout primary and high school have ever accomplished anything (except a few A+s here and there, flex). You can’t say the same about German student and environmentalist Felix Finkbeiner however, who turned a simple homework project into a worldwide ecological movement.

When Finkbeiner was just nine, he gave a class presentation on global warming in which he suggested to classmates that children should plant one million trees in each country of the world. In 2007, Felix planted his first tree and launched Plant-for-the-Planet, a climate justice initiative that has picked up incredible momentum.

After only three years, the climate justice initiative planted its millionth tree. Over a decade later, the organisation has planted 13.6 billion trees worldwide, and is currently aiming to plant a trillion. Evidence suggests that could reverse the impact of almost a decade worth of CO2.

Finkbeiner’s organisation employs 130 employees internationally and 70,000 members in 67 countries—not bad for something with such humble origins. It just goes to show that you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to make a difference. Working towards a simple goal together as humanity, as Finkbeiner has kicked off, can make a big difference too.

Daisy Jeffrey

Speaking from experience, one of the biggest hurdles you need to overcome as someone who wants to fight against climate change is self-doubt: the idea that your impact is too small or that you’re not capable of making a difference.

Daisy Jeffrey sets an example that shows you don’t need to be an Emma Watson or Al Gore to get the ball rolling on climate action.

At just seventeen, Jeffrey has had a huge impact: as one of the primary organisers of School Strike 4 Climate, she helped mobilise literally thousands of fellow students to protest against the Australian Government’s inaction on climate change.

Jeffrey has written a book about her experience as a protest organiser, explaining how and why she’s done what she has, and explained how our leaders are letting young people down around the world through policy inaction, adding “published author” to her resume.

She’s also been one of Vogue Australia’s 2019 Voices of Change, destroyed boomer anti-climate change arguments on commercial TV like on Studio Ten, and represented Australian students at the youth climate strike at Madrid’s UN COP25 conference.

John Paul Jose

Student-led climate strikes are an international phenomenon. In India, the world’s second-most populated country and world’s third biggest polluter, global peace ambassador John Paul Jose has been instrumental in mobilising Indian youth activists.

Jose is highly active on social media and uses his online presence to report on international climate action. In particular, Jose’s had a lot to say about the Australian bushfires—demonstrating that it’s not just Aussie kids who are worried about our government’s inaction on climate change.

Jose is one of the best sources of international climate news, tirelessly organising and communicating climate action. He’s also a great photographer who uses the medium to paint a more honest portrait of India—not a tourist campaign, not disaster porn, but an accurate depiction of a huge, beautiful place, threatened by the onslaught of climate change.

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez

Americans have a reputation for suing each other for dumb or trivial stuff. But not all crazy lawsuits in the US are that dumb or that trivial—take Xiuhtezcatl Martinez’s lawsuits against the U.S. government for failing to act on climate change.

Martinez, an activist and musician of Native Mexican heritage, is the youth director of Earth Guardians, a worldwide conservation organisation. He along with dozens of other activists have been pioneers in atmospheric trust litigation—basically, that governments can and should be sued for failing to protect the environment through inaction on climate change.

Martinez has also given multiple TED Talks and spoken at the U.N., in English, Spanish, and his native language Nahuatl. He’s also a pretty talented rapper who’s worked with the likes of J Dilla, Jaden Smith and Nahko. 

“For us, it’s not like we’re pretending as if we know everything,” Martinez says of his fellow activists.

“We’re telling politicians to listen to the scientists who have been telling us for decades that this is something that we need to be paying attention to.”

Angela Heathcote

Climate activism isn’t just about protesting or going vegan. It’s also about knowledge sharing and positive communication—particularly when fake news is more prevalent than ever.

Angela Heathcote built upon her years covering environment news for Australian Geographic and as host of the highly acclaimed podcast Talking Australia in launching Sweaty City—Australia’s first dedicated magazine about climate change.

A “youth journal about climate change and urban ecologies for hot and sweaty Sydney-dwellers,” Sweaty City and Heathcote demonstrate that there’s different ways to tackle the climate crisis beyond traditional means of resistance.

(Check out Sweaty City contributor Issy Phillips’ take on activism and eco-positivity here: [LINK])

Bayvick Lawrance

Originally from Fiji but currently based in Australia, Bayvick Lawrance is a fashion designer, activist and cultural ambassador, who’s flying the flag for Pasifika culture and climate activism.

Lawrance is a member of Pacific Climate Warriors, a grassroots network of young activists from Pacific Island nations dedicated to take action to peacefully protect the islands from climate change impacts. Australia, as the major power of Oceania, has a particular responsibility to act on climate change to help protect our vulnerable island neighbours.

Aside from his activism, Lawrance’s fashion designs celebrate the unique culture and traditions of Fiji and the Pacific. The self-taught designer’s super cute patterns and couture eschew European fashion traditions and instead are inspired by Pacific and Antipodean lifestyles.

Greta Thunberg

Ok ok so you’ve probably heard of Greta Thunberg before… The Swedish climate activist who inspired countless students around the world to ditch school for the climate, who’s addressed the U.N. and become one of the most famous people of the 21st century, Thunberg has perhaps done more to catalyse climate action than anyone in recent memory.

But I’m not saying she’s inspirational because she’s gained international attention. What you might not be more familiar with is her background and story, which in my opinion is a far greater reason to be inspired by her accomplishments.

Thunberg, after first hearing about climate change at the age of eight, became extremely depressed and struggled with depression for years before she began her first climate strike. She was also diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, OCD, selective mutism and ADHD. Protesting became her way of dealing with her eco-anxiety in a constructive way.

Indeed, she has attributed some of her success as an activist to her mental health. Thunberg feels that her Asperger’s has driven her to persist with activism and resist criticism in ways that someone who is neurotypical might struggle to.

The most inspirational thing about Thunberg is that we can do what she has done. This is not to minimise her achievements—her skill as an orator and dedication to the no-fly movement is particularly unique. What I mean is that Thunberg provides a blueprint for all others interested in campaigning for the environment.

She has shown that by doing your research, communicating the evidence and research done by experts, being persistent and working with others, anyone can be an effective ally in the fight against climate change. You don’t need to be a scientist or a celebrity to make a difference.

Thunberg, and the other young activists she works with and has inspired, are inspirations to us all.

Lead image via @palexbr.

Jamie is a journalist, radio presenter, music nerd and shameless sneakerhead. When he's not writing, he's obsessing over the latest hip-hop and Nike releases. Is also baby.

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