For the world’s youth, the science of climate change is crystal clear.
If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase in the years ahead, then coastlines will become submerged by rising sea levels, storms will become more severe, and deadly droughts, forest fires, and heat waves will become more common.
In other words, young people could face an increasingly uncertain and hostile future. And that’s not something they’re willing to let happen.
In recent years, a massive, global youth movement has emerged to call for immediate climate action, perform civil disobedience, and raise awareness of the environmental challenges that lie ahead.
Young people have shut down intersections with climate action banners, put world leaders in the hot seat for failing to put forth meaningful climate legislations, and inspired a new worldview that prioritizes climate justice for the most vulnerable populations.
Three youth leaders who have been instrumental in this movement took to the 2019 Global Citizen Festival stage in New York’s Central Park on Sept. 28 to continue driving forward the call for climate action.
Introduced to the stage by Leonardo DiCaprio, the three activists — Alexandria Villaseñor, Xiye Bastida, and Selina Neirok Leem — spoke eloquently in front of tens of thousands of assembled Global Citizens about the stakes of climate change, and left the audience hopeful that a new status quo is possible.
Here are their stories.
The United Nations urges countries to cut current carbon emissions in half by 2030 to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
By that year, Alexandria Villaseñor will be 25.
The 14-year-old activist first became interested in the climate movement after visiting family in California during the devastating wildfires of 2018, which temporarily led to the worst air pollution in the world. Her family had to put pillows at the bottom of doors and windows to prevent smog from seeping in.
When she returned to her home in New York, she learned about the Swedish activist Greta Thunberg’s solitary Fridays for Future protests.
She soon began skipping school on Fridays too, to protest outside the United Nations headquarters.
“Greta’s mission sparked a global movement of student protests all over the world, including the strike I started at the UN here in New York City,” Villaseñor told the Global Citizen Festival audience.
“What began as a small act of resistance has now exploded into an all out climate revolution,” she added.
Since then, Villaseñor has founder her own environmental organization Earth Uprising that helped organize the New York climate strikes in March and September.
Recently, Villaseñor joined 15 other youth activists to file an official complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to demand government action on the climate crisis, essentially suing countries for failing to protect their rights.
“Each one of us had our rights violated and denied,” she said when announcing the complaint. “Our futures are being destroyed.”
“I’m here because 30 years ago the world signed a contract between generations that the present world would leave a world worth inheriting to the future,” she added. “And today I want to tell the world, ‘You are defaulting on that contract. And we’re here to collect.”
Climate activism is in Xiye Bastida’s DNA — her parents met at a climate change conference in 1992.
The 17-year-old activist moved to New York four years ago from San Pedro Tultepec in Lerma, Mexico, which regularly experiences heavy rainfall and drought — precursors to the increasingly severe climate events unfolding around the world.
“In Lerma, the rainfall of 2015 flooded my town, new factories contaminated the air, and buildings were sinking into wetlands,” Bastida recently said in a press statement. “Economic instability, and air pollution were the things that pushed my family out of my home.”
In New York, Bastida quickly got involved in local climate change groups. She joined the Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion, and traveled to Albany to speak with government officials.
“When moving to New York, I realized that the climate catastrophe follows you,” she added in the press statement. “It is the one issue that affects everyone, everywhere, but it’s affecting marginalized communities the most. This crisis is our present, but we cannot let it be our future. That's why youth across the globe are uniting against corporate power, against climate racism, and against the deterioration of mother earth.”
Like Villaseñor, Bastida was inspired by Thunberg, and joined New York’s Fridays for Future protests earlier this year. She’s since spoken in front of the United Nations, helped lead the climate strikes in New York, and become a champion for indigenous rights.
“The world leaders must see now that this is not just a few school students,” she told the Global Citizen Festival crowd, referencing this month’s continued global climate strikes. “It is millions of people from every generation all over the world, coming together to demand climate action now.”
“We are going to keep striking,” she continued. “We’re going to keep marching. Change is coming whether the establishment is ready for it or not. Together, we can build a 100% renewable world.”
Selina Neirok Leem
The Marshall Islands are on the frontlines of climate change. Sea level rise and worsening storms cut could cause the country to disappear in the decades ahead. Already, quality of life is declining as salt water intrudes upon fresh water sources and extreme storms batter homes.
Selina Neirok Leem grew up amid this crisis and it informed her worldview.
In recent years, she’s become a forceful and eloquent advocate for people threatened by climate change. She argues for a holistic understanding of climate action that recognizes how disparate issues are often intertwined. Effective climate action, Leem believes, has to promote women’s rights, reduce inequality, and expand access to health care, among many other things.
Leem has taken her message to international forums around the world. In 2015, she was the youngest delegate at the signing of the Paris climate agreement.
She also dedicates her time to helping people understand and adapt to the climate crisis in the Marshall Islands.
At the Global Citizen Festival, Leema told the audience that climate action is inevitable despite the current political gridlock around the issue.
“We are demanding that leaders enact policies that will limit global temperature rise to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, in line with the IPCC report on climate change that was released last October,” she said on stage. “My island home in the Marshall Islands is already experiencing the effects of sea level rise, and could be uninhabitable by the time I’m 50 years old.”
“Our leaders must do more,” she said. “We demand that you do your part now."
The 2019 Global Citizen Festival in New York will be presented by Citi and Cisco and in association with our Production Partner, Live Nation. MSNBC, Comcast NBCUniversal, and iHeart will serve as Presenting Media Partners and will air a live simulcast of the Festival on MSNBC and on iHeart Radio Stations. The Festival will also be livestreamed on YouTube and Twitter, presented by Johnson & Johnson.
Proud partners of the 2019 Global Citizen Festival include Global Citizen’s global health partner and major partner Johnson & Johnson, and major partners P&G, Verizon, and NYC Parks.