On Sept. 8, San Francisco became the epicenter of climate change activism, playing host to a new generation of Bay Area climate activists with a climate march and the Global Climate Action Summit, hosted by Governor Jerry Brown.
More than 30,000 came to view the climate murals and march outside San Francisco City Hall, many of whom were young people. One of the muralists was Grace McGee, a student at San Francisco School of The Arts (SOTA). McGee said “[I feel] really concerned as a young person, a part of the generation that is going to be inheriting this planet and all the problems caused by climate change, because I don’t feel like the current political administration is doing enough to protect our right to a safe environmental future.”
Walking around the booths at the climate march later that day, I saw many climate organizations with founders and representatives between the ages of 10 and 25. Under a green awning, I met Tia Hatton, a 21-year-old who is one of the 21 plaintiffs in the lawsuit Juliana v. U.S. against the federal government for violating the next generation’s rights to a healthy and habitable climate. She talked about the importance of youth getting involved in politics so that “politicians are aware that young people and the next generation of voters care about climate change and are going to be disproportionately affected.”
The week after the climate march, I attended the Youth Sustainability Summit where Bay Area high school student activists networked and spoke about the impact of student groups leading the fight against global warming. Aislinn Clark, an incredibly articulate 12-year-old climate activist, presented at the summit about her lobbying work on Capitol Hill with the organization Heirs To Our Oceans. She believes that “policy is going to help us make the biggest difference we can…..[and our] lobbying efforts in Washington made an impact and were successful. A lot of people were listening to us and a few of the bills we were asking them to support even got passed.”
Amongst the youth who participated in San Francisco’s week of climate activities, many expressed their frustration with the current administration’s lack of climate action, though some believe that the only solution to the climate crisis is a complete restructuring of our economic and political system. Interspersed between the green-and-white booths at the climate march, I noticed red flags where socialist groups shared their platform for a sustainable world. According to James (last name withheld), a 25-year-old member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, “the climate crisis has been perpetuated by capitalism and the pursuit of the profit motive… and only a socialist system can roll back or at least try to halt the damage that has been done.”
While there is a disagreement between those who believe in working within the current political system and those who have determined that the political system is too skewed towards protecting the people who are perpetuating global warming, it is clear that young people are going to be the leaders of the climate movement. As Shai Barton, a 14-year-old climate activist with Heirs To Our Oceans, said, “because of the current tone of our federal administration, it’s going to fall upon us as ordinary, young citizens to make change and not depend on our current government for policies we are not getting.”
Ellie Lyla Lerner is a 16 year old high school student and film maker in S.F.