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.
Finding Our Voices: Our Emergence into Climate Activism
In third-grade P.E. in Beijing, I watched helplessly while my best friend collapsed from an asthma attack, her face turning paler and paler as she struggled to breathe. Her mask wasn’t on at the time; we wore masks almost every day due to air pollution, years before COVID-19 plagued our lives. I didn’t understand what happened at first or what triggered her asthma attack. I feared for her life as I stood frozen, unable to help her.
Digesting my shock and grief, I delved into learning about coal combustion, lung cancer, and the ideology behind Beijing’s odd-and-even traffic switch policy. According to one study, 4.3 million people in China died of lung cancer in 2012 due to severe air pollution. My memories of living and breathing that horrible air would become my climate story, something that I carried to the US with me when I moved here five years ago.
However, as I now live in a small suburban town in California that is threatened by annual wildfires, the smell and sights from my past and present draw inevitable parallelism. Environmental degradation and injustice is a worldwide issue. Living in it and not with it, I strive to look beyond conflicts between identities and cultures to establish my role as a youth with a voice that is representative of “our future generation.”
Through a social media post, I discovered the nonprofit Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action in 2020. It became my first glance into something monumental—the global power and community today’s youth have in combating climate change and driving sustainability.
I brought my determination to decrease air pollution to Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action’s state-level climate advocacy team. It was the numerous hours of researching bills on sustainable energy like offshore wind, making public comments in front of the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority Board in support of expanding public transportation, filming a Get-Out-The-Vote video in election season, and meeting with government officials in California to discuss environmental justice that made me realize our voices are key to a cleaner and safer living environment for millions of families and children. Or, more simply, our voices are critical for change.
I rejoiced that I no longer felt so alone in my concerns for our environment.
I still remember the echo of sirens that carried my friend away in an ambulance nine years ago. That moment has never faded in my memory, and it urges me to reflect on the connections between nature and human society. While learning and advocating for the stories of how others build resiliency in the face of environmental threats and injustice, I am finding the resiliency I need to propel the monumental movement that began with an urge for seeking climate justice and literacy four years ago.
I’ve always loved the environmental sciences, from my childhood enthrallment with conserving the biodiversity I discovered through Finding Nemo, to gleefully experimenting with biofuel efficiency in a middle school science-fair project. However, upon learning that clean solutions exist and that policy often stalls their integration into our lives, I was redirected from my environmental engineering ambitions to my desire to create lasting change in my community. As a result, starting my junior year in high school, I explored environmental policy by advocating for city, county, and state climate bills in front of elected officials with Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action (SVYCA). Knowing that my actions contributed to 14 of these state bills being signed into law across two years of advocating with SVYCA, I found immense fulfillment in knowing that I didn’t need to wait until I was an adult to make meaningful contributions in the fight against climate change. Thus, I committed to continuing my advocacy work with grassroots organizations like SVYCA, and am pursuing my studies as an Environmental Economics and Policy major at UC Berkeley.
Pushing for Collective Action in Climate Literacy: 2022 SVYCA Youth Leadership Summit
With ever-increasing global temperatures, adults in power not acting fast enough, and youth (as well as future generations) inheriting an uninhabitable world, it’s clear that something is missing in the world’s fight against climate change. For too long, youth have been absent from the conversations on necessary actions that our government and institutions need to take to not only provide relief and resilience to communities already affected by climate change, but also to proactively remediate them through policy change and effective environmental literacy education. High schoolers are capable of doing so much more for the planet than just picking up trash from our local parks—and Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action recognizes this.
SVYCA’s 2022 Youth Leadership Summit on Aug. 6 is intended to be a learning opportunity for high schoolers, college students, and young professionals alike to become informed and mobilized on high-impact actions within sustainability. With a Keynote, Green Careers, and Climate Literacy Panel, the summit program focuses on spotlighting professionals and specialists in sustainability across various sectors to share their real-world career pathways, progress in policies and partnerships, and insights into how we combat the climate crisis. Summit panelists include (but are not limited to) Jan Pepper, CEO of Peninsula Clean Energy; Peggy Brannigan, LinkedIn’s Director of Global Environmental Sustainability; and advocates from the Sierra Club. To apply this knowledge, after our panels attendees will be sorted into breakout groups where mentors will help youth strategize how they can commit to impactful climate action after the summit (whether that’s advocating with their city councils, school boards, or some other avenue)!
SVYCA shares Ten Strands’ vision of empowering youth leaders to be involved in the advancement of climate literacy in K–12 and postgraduate curriculums, which is why we’re especially excited to host a Climate Literacy Panel within our Summit with Jilliann M’Barki, Ten Strands’ Chief Advancement Officer joining us! In 2021, SVYCA student leaders created three two-hour–long advisory videos on climate science and literacy (and we’ve recently created a condensed 10-minute version of our content). Our youth are familiar with how to create the curriculum content that we want to see, but it is unfortunately missing from our classrooms. Beyond grassroot actions in pushing forward climate literacy, SVYCA students also advocated for the Santa Clara County Youth Climate Initiative (which will be housed within the Santa Clara County Office of Sustainability). Earlier this month, state Senator Dave Cortese helped secure $2 million in state funding for the Santa Clara County Youth Climate Initiative, so we can be sure there will be meaningful additions to climate literacy programs and skill training in both educational and professional fields alike. With the recent progressive advocacy efforts of Ten Strands, SVYCA, and related organizations, climate education will give rise to a new wave of empowered youth ready to combat the climate crisis.
Because SVYCA’s summit brings together many like-minded youth attendees toward a common purpose in collective action for environmental policy and climate literacy reform, it will certainly be an inspiring, impactful event that has long-lasting effects in our Bay Area schools and cities. We hope that our summit energizes our attendees to take the insights that they learn into their day-to-day life, begin their own exploration of careers within sustainability, or join hands with SVYCA for impactful climate action.