Are you concerned about what Trump’s presidency will mean for our environment? You’re not alone. Trump has made it clear he doesn’t believe in climate change, and he has threatened to roll back some of our country’s biggest environmental commitments, like the Paris Climate Agreement. All of this can make an environmentalist like me feel pretty helpless about the future, so I asked Annie Leonard, the head of Greenpeace, and her 17-year-old daughter Dewi about how to take action when the people in the White House are climate-change deniers. Here are their top-five tips:
1. Believe in your power to affect change.
DEWI: It’s easy in such a big country to think that one voice doesn’t matter—especially for young people, since we’re often labeled as apathetic, or brushed off when we try to join political discourse. But we have been at the forefront of social movements throughout history. Young people sat at the segregated lunch counters in the 1960s during the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S., and took to the streets in Myanmar to protest dictatorship in the Saffron Revolution, and to fight apartheid in South Africa.
ANNIE: That’s so true. I’ve been really impressed by students leading the climate movement in their high schools and colleges. Check out this inspiring video about Claire Wang, who’s leading the Climate Coalition at Duke University. Their persistence has managed to help stop a fossil fuel power plant being built on their college campus, which is no small feat. In Oregon, 21 youth activists aged nine to 20 are taking the federal government to court for causing climate change. The outcome could be groundbreaking.
2. Skill up and speak out.
ANNIE: The incoming President and his advisers are looking seriously scary for the climate. Trump has nominated a whole bunch of climate deniers to senior positions, including Rex Tillerson, the CEO of oil giant Exxon as Secretary of State! (I, for one, do not want to see the head of a multinational fossil fuel corporation making foreign policy decisions; if you agree here’s how you can help stop it from happening.) Decisions that are made during the Trump administration—about whether we power our country on clean renewable energy, or burn poisonous fossil fuels—are going to impact the health and happiness of communities here and around the world for a long time to come. There couldn’t be a more important time to skill up on organizing and activism. Here’s a bunch of free online resources that offer step-by-step intros. And here’s a ready-to-use high school curriculum on the environmental and social impacts of our stuff: where it comes from, how it gets to us, and where it goes after we get rid of it. There also are some incredible trainings, like Youth Empowered Action Camp (YEA).
DEWI: Every day there’s an opportunity to speak up. If a parent or teacher doesn’t believe in climate change, I recommend you start by spending just a little time online reading up about it, then use conversations to practice your advocacy skills. Try different angles in explaining why climate change matters. Be respectful to keep the lines of communication open. Find something that connects with that person and use that as an entry point. Do they work in the healthcare field? There are many health impacts of climate change. Do they love flowers? There are many species threatened by climate change. Do they like to bike? Great, that’s a carbon-free transportation option.
3. Take action close to home.
DEWI: I see a lot of my classmates taking service trips overseas, or doing internships in Washington in an effort to be a positive force for change. That’s fine for those who can afford it, but it leaves lots of young people feeling less effective if they can’t. There are so many ways to be a positive force for change in our own communities, and there are lots of reasons it is better to start at home than fly around the world in the name of change. At home, we can do service projects, like turning vacant lots into gardens to increase access to local healthy food. We can push for better policy, like lobbying our schools to divest from fossil fuels or demanding that our city councils promote climate considerations in local building codes.
ANNIE: Sometimes the biggest step is reaching out and finding folks who care about the same issues you do. A great way to connect with like minded people, and to even start your own local climate campaigns, is through Greenpeace’s Greenwire platform.
4. Make the system work for you.
DEWI: People who get involved in voting at younger ages tend to have higher voter participation for their whole lives. In my hometown [of Berkeley, California], some friends and I learned that it’s possible to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in local school board elections, which makes sense since the school board is something that directly affects young people. Also, because 18 is usually an age with life transitions–graduating high school, going to college, or maybe moving out of our parents’ homes— registering to vote can be the last thing on our minds. So my friends and I worked to get a bill on the ballot that allowed 16- and 17-year-olds to vote in the Berkeley School Board election. We spoke about it at the City Council and got endorsement from many of its members. We also got endorsements from School Board members and mayoral candidates. We were so excited on election day when it won! That means that soon 16- and 17-year-olds can register to vote and start practicing this important civic act. I encourage other young people to consider similar campaigns locally, because if we do this in enough places, we will see more young people voting across the country.
ANNIE: Lots of us are feeling disillusioned by the results of the presidential election. But voting really does matter. We may not be able to change who our president is for the next four years, but other important decisions are voted on all the time, like who the mayor or city council members will be in your town. This website is great for checking out which elections are happening where in 2017.
5. Remember to have fun.
DEWI: One last thought: Being an activist isn’t all hard work and sacrifice. You get to meet great friends, learn a lot, and share some incredible moments with other activists. It’s not always easy, but overall, working for climate solutions or other positive changes is a really rewarding way to spend time.
ANNIE: I couldn’t agree more! ♦
Kat Clark works for Greenpeace, building their creative partnerships. In her “previous life” she spent a decade working in London-based advertising and design agencies like Ogilvy & Mather, where she helped launch Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty”. Originally from the UK, Kat’s now based in San Francisco where her passion for environmental issues is matched only by her love of finding bargains in thrift stores and camping under redwoods. She tweets on green issues and graphic design here.
Annie Leonard is the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA. She has over two decades of experience investigating and explaining the environmental and social impacts of our stuff: where it comes from, how it gets to us, and where it goes after we get rid of it. Her film, The Story of Stuff has been viewed over 40 million times and her book of the same name became a 2010 New York Times bestseller. Annie began her career at Greenpeace in 1988 and now leads its U.S. office from the Bay Area, where she lives with Dewi.