By Makara Rumley
About the author: Makara Rumley, JD, is the Senior Advisor to the EPA Region 4 Regional Administrator. Her interest in the links between human rights and the environment had its roots in her work with Amnesty International, the National Geographic Society, and GreenLaw.
It’s amazing as I travel around the country, I see the energy, innovation, and thoughtful approaches that youth are developing to address the impacts of climate change. Today’s youth are uniquely positioned to elevate their voices and perspectives about this issue that impacts their lives today and tomorrow, as well as the lives of their future generations. Their focus on the most vulnerable communities is one of the driving forces behind the climate justice movement.
This commitment of positive social change has its roots in the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 60s. Earlier this year, Jibreel Khazan, one of the Greensboro Four who began a sit-in at a segregated Woolworth’s lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, used the 55th anniversary of the protest as a call for youth action, noting that:
Climate change is young people’s ‘lunch counter moment’ for the 21st century. When my three classmates and I sat down at that lunch counter to end segregation we did not know what the outcome would be. We simply knew that we had to act. We had to take bold action for necessary change to come about. It is in the tradition of civil and human rights struggle that young people today are calling for action on climate change. It is the biggest threat to justice and opportunity our planet has ever seen.
Climate change is considered an environmental stressor that has catapulted a new generation of leaders and activists into the environmental movement. Youth constitute the majority of the population in many countries and have increasingly strong sense of social awareness and environmental perspectives. The efforts of the New York City Climate Justice Youth Summit as well as the Historically Black Colleges and Universities Climate Change Initiative are evidence that an organized and forward thinking delegation of youth is taking root in the climate change conversation. It is critical that these voices be heard and viewpoints incorporated into policymaking.
We recognize the key role that youth play in bringing awareness to climate change and offering solutions to transform our societies towards a low-carbon and climate resilient future. It is essential that youth have a seat at the table and help inform the hard decisions that must be made that affect so many. Thus, the formation of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council Youth Perspectives on Climate Justice Work Group is our effort to include young people in assisting EPA in addressing climate change concerns. This advisory work group is the first of its kind in any federal agency. We are looking forward to working with a geographically diverse group of emerging thought leaders in the climate change space. The work group will comprise up to 15 leaders between the ages of 18 and 29 to assist us in developing strategies and finding opportunities to combat climate change and empower other young people to take on the challenge. Applications for the work group are due to EPA by November 30, so spread the word.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy put it best in a recent blog when she wrote that
Fighting for environmental justice, and climate justice, echoes the spirit of America’s great civil rights leaders; it’s a spirit fueled by our moral obligation to leave our children a world safer and rich with opportunity. History proves even the most wrenching strains on justice can be unwound, with a committed, diverse, and vocal coalition of people calling for change. That’s why EPA, the Hip Hop Caucus, and organizations around the country are fighting for climate justice—so we can further fairness and opportunity for all.
We need your power. We need your voices. Act now. Your voice matters!