From Climate Worrier to Climate Warrior: A Journey through Gardening and Climate Advocacy

By Rishi Gurjar|March 2, 2023

This article is part of our Youth Voices series. At Ten Strands we believe that young people have valuable perspectives and a critical role in shaping our society and our world. We recognize their power to drive dialogue and create positive change and are committed to providing a platform which amplifies their contributions.

I’ve seen the effects of climate change firsthand. I’ve never experienced torrential rains or sweltering heat, but I’ve suffered through sleepless nights and anxiety-ridden days, going from a climate warrior to a climate worrier. But during eighth grade, I discovered gardening.

I’d watch visionaries like Virgil Abloh and Alexander McQueen design fashion collections, captivated by their unrelenting vision for their fashion houses. I watched closely as they captured the ethereal beauty of a girl floating in water shrouded in organza or sculpted the grotesque, shredded texture of a Rodarte dress. In the fashion world, creative freedom reigns supreme, unrestrained by the laws of physics or politics. While I didn’t have the textiles and tools to create beautiful garments, my choice of canvas became my garden.

Determined to transform my weed-ridden backyard, I first learned which palette of species would grow well in my climate and soil. After stripping weeds, replacing the stubborn topsoil, and lining the ground with an extensive drip irrigation system, I began the real work: designing. I found my muse—hummingbirds—and began using their avenues to chart the lines of my plants. Realizing they followed the same journey through my garden every morning, I added brightly colored flowers in waves, interweaving plant layers, abstracting the rhythms and patterns found in nature, creating the impression of woven fabric—and attracting the eye of hummingbirds. Following the New Perennial Movement ethos championed by Piet Oudolf, a leading landscape architect, I brought tubular plants built for the hummingbird’s long, slender bill. Before long, my compositions attracted other species, including blue jays, sparrows, and wrens. I created a living, breathing fabric for local biodiversity.

Initial garden sketch designed by Rishi.

As my garden began to explode with life, problems began to sprout, from washed-out geraniums to dried climbing roses. Some parts flourished with blooms while others withered. In my workroom, I donned my white coat as a seamstress would and set about diagnosing the problem, stitch by stitch. I experimented. I researched. I made trips to the local nursery and discovered mycorrhizal fungi, taking the inoculum, a fungal jumpstart, and surrounded my plants’ roots, bringing vitality to my garden the following year.

I found entire fungal communities that were underfoot—making up acres of living matter below ground—and their networks could help mitigate brutal droughts or fight off pests. Some, I discovered, were especially adept at feeding nutrients to plants, reducing the need for fertilizers. The plants I threaded into my garden reworked the soil chemistry, altering the makeup of the underground bodice. The fungi formed a network that tied the cloth of my garden together, and as I stuck my nose in the dirt, inhaling their scent, I imagined the secrets these mycorrhizal communities contained to help us live on a hotter planet. 

I dug deeper, conducting an independent study of fungal communities, from salt flats in California to deforested areas in China and Vietnam. Rethreaded fungal communities were not only unique to my garden but occurring worldwide, especially in areas with chemical spills, as my analysis revealed. But rather than bringing life to these areas, like the native birds that proliferated my garden, the earth in many places is degrading due to anthropogenic impact, and the severity of the issue is heartbreaking. Fungi—the thread that binds soil together—is tearing due to extreme human pressures, and Mother Earth’s clothing is rapidly falling apart.

The pandemic added to my angst as my freshman year rolled in, tacking a seemingly endless roll of climate-related doomsday threats on social media and the news. Every news agency and YouTube channel seemed to publish offers of underground end-of-the-world shelters, pundits invalidating the words of scientists, and climate activists chaining themselves to prominent buildings. The flurry of information—and misinformation—took a significant toll on everyone around me. 

I knew my school could do more to educate students about climate change, so I joined a few students in my district—Shreya Ramachandran, Sriya Bairy, and Srilakshmi Varma—to approach my school board. I also knew that all students—not just high schoolers or students in environmental science classes—needed access to reliable, age-appropriate, and relevant information. 

With Sarah Ranney, Ernesto Pacheco, and several other environmentalists, educators, and activists region wide, we organized entirely online and rallied support through hundreds of emails, messages, and petition votes. Finally, after seven months, the Fremont Unified School District Board of Education unanimously passed a climate literacy resolution. Soon thereafter, many neighboring districts followed suit. Next year, we’ll be graduating our first cohort, with the leadership of Nate Ivy, at Fremont USD Curriculum & Instruction. 

The Fremont USD Climate Literacy and Environmental Education Network 2.0 kickoff.

Even though I’m focused on various “solutions” to anthropogenic impact, from drones that plant native species to aid in nature-based mitigation at Beyond Terra to research on soil carbon under clearcut mangrove forests at MIT, climate policy is indisputably the ultimate preventative tool. Ernie always says, “Climate literacy is a climate policy implementation mechanism.” Students who graduate years from now can help stitch the indigenous tissue of our Earth back together, but the seeds must be sown now. 

To scale climate literacy, we must take these actions:

  1. Integrate climate literacy into science and humanities curricula, and train teachers to effectively educate students about the impacts of climate change.
  2. Use media platforms and other communication channels to spread awareness and information about climate change and its impacts.
  3. Encourage governments to prioritize climate literacy and adopt policies that support its spread.
  4. Work with businesses, NGOs, and other organizations to promote climate literacy and drive action to address the climate crisis.
  5. Encourage individuals and communities to take an active role in learning about and addressing climate change.
Humanities-based climate education values compiled by teachers in Fremont USD.

Just as the fashion designers I revered had a deep understanding of textiles and patterns to create their masterpieces, so too must individuals have a comprehensive account of the science behind climate change and its consequences. Through education and awareness, we can empower future generations to take action and protect our planet. By weaving together the threads of science, policy, and community action, we can create a fabric strong enough to withstand the impacts of climate change and create a sustainable future. In the same way that my garden flourished with the right tools and knowledge, our planet can also thrive if we invest in the education and empowerment of our future leaders, turning them from climate worriers into climate warriors.

Rishi Gurjar
This article was written by Rishi Gurjar

Rishi Gurjar is a senior at American High School and will attend Cornell University in the fall. He leads Beyond Terra, a nonprofit aimed at restoring and protecting biodiversity, and chairs the Sierra Club Southern Alameda County Conservation Committee. He is involved in efforts to bring climate literacy to students across California through work at the Sierra Club, ClimateScience, and the Fremont Unified School District Climate Literacy Network. Rishi also researches anthropogenic impact at Stanford and MIT.


  • Lucy

    Go Rishi! I never knew that you had started with a garden! How lovely and necessary. What about our culture of fear of and control of nature for ourselves? What about our culture of superiority over all the other creatures on Earth? How can that be rethought, our beliefs changed?

  • Sahityalaxmi

    Wow!! Interesting article!
    Didn’t know you were so much into it. Would like to visit your garden and learn a few things from you. You also have a good command over language which compels the reader to read the article .Very well written.

  • Dr Madhusudan Bhagwat

    Very well written article on environment conservation Like father like son Keep it up Rishi Nice thing is the article is based on experience in your own garden

  • Ar.Sandhya Nivsarkar

    Great article. wonderfully worded, interestingly informative. Happy to note that a very young talented mind is bearing a torch to enlighten the world.,’
    The earth can provide for everybody’s need but won’t sustain people,’s greed ‘ was preached by Mahatma Gandhi .
    Will be interested in knowing your furthur endeavours and all the very best for your future career
    Sandhya Nivsarkar (kaku)


  • Suresh Iyer

    Nicely worded, well written. The National Rishi,
    Geographic print version style almost forgotten , seemingly brought alive. Good to read the efforts too, you are into.Wish you continued success.