Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has been fighting to stop climate change since he was six years old. He’s engaged in nonviolent civil disobedience, led marches and rallies, and helped pass local environmental legislation.
He’s perhaps best known for his role in the landmark lawsuit against the federal government, Juliana, et al. v. United States. The lawsuit alleges that the constitutional right of children to a safe environment has been violated by the government for failing to take meaningful action on climate change. Even though it has been known for decades that greenhouse gas emissions warm the atmosphere, setting in motion catastrophic environmental consequences, emissions continue to rise each year.
Martinez has seen the climate movement grow from a fringe issue to a dominant organizing framework over the past decade as sea levels rise, extreme storms worsen, and droughts and heat waves become more common.
Now 19, he wants to convert this momentum into tangible action. With a coalition of artists, teachers, entrepreneurs, and activists, he’s launched a new platform called NOW that seeks to reconceptualize climate change and empower everyday people in the fight against it.
“The climate crisis is about all of us,” Martinez told Global Citizen. “It’s about all that we care about. It’s not a partisan conversation, it’s about the humanity that’s being threatened every day.
“NOW is bringing it back to the moment,” he said. “This is about today. It’s not about future generations. Our existence is being threatened and we need to flip the story to something positive and something good.”
NOW is an open-ended platform that aims to build partnerships with other nonprofits, artist organizations, and companies to elevate and devise new forms of climate action.
Initially, the group is focused on planting 1 trillion trees through a simple subscription service and partnership model. In addition to people paying one-time or monthly — Martinez suggested $10 a month as a reasonable donation, but the platform accepts any amount — to reforest parts of the planet, NOW encourages companies to incorporate the program into their business models. For example, a portion of proceeds from ticketed events could go to support NOW, he said.
“The best, most cost-effective way to reverse this crisis, within our deadline, is to plant a trillion trees,” Martinez said, referring to a recent report that calls for 1.7 billion hectares of land to be reforested with trees to remove 200 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
Currently, the world emits around 40 billion tons of carbon annually. Reforesting the planet would create carbon sinks to slow down climate change, perhaps buying humanity enough time to transition beyond fossil fuels.
Conserving existing trees, especially in the Amazon rainforest, is even more important than planting new ones, Martinez said. Between 1990 and 2016, humans razed 502,000 square miles of trees, and 46% of all trees have been cut down since humans began harvesting lumber and clearing land, according to Nat Geo. The Amazon rainforest, known as the lungs of the planet, has lost 17% of its tree cover over the past 50 years.
“Those ecosystems that are being destroyed in the Amazon, those are forests that have been growing for generations and have been sequestering massive amounts of carbon for hundreds if not thousands of years, so the difference of planting new seedlings and preserving those old forests is massive,” he said.
“The burning of these massive carbon sinks is absolutely detrimental and shrinks our chances every day of being able to bounce back from this climate crisis,” he added.
NOW will mostly rely on drone technology to scale its tree-planting efforts, but partnerships with Indigenous groups that have deep knowledge of forests will also be instrumental to the project.
Martinez thinks that a lot of people will be eager to spend the cost of a few cups of coffee each month on reforesting the planet and supporting other forms of climate action. The many carbon credit programs that have emerged over the past few years have shown that there’s an appetite for being proactive about the climate crisis.
Investing in landscapes and ecosystems helps to reframe the narrative surrounding the climate crisis from one of doom and gloom to one of redemption, he said. Government inaction can be replaced by a global movement demanding action.
“Reversing the climate crisis doesn’t require waiting for government action, waiting for bureaucracies and for those in power to act on our behalf,” Martinez said. “Planting trees isn’t a new idea, but we’re tapping into this new energy of where the movement is at.”