My generation will be the first to have lived an entire lifetime in a climate changed world. We witnessed the first climate impacts. We will experience the worst. We were born into this crisis and did nothing to cause it. Everything that we know and love—from our backyards to the existence of Planet Earth—is threatened.
This is a generation unlike any other.
What is it like to grow up with this new climate reality? I spoke to six young people who have been working on climate change from a young age and know what it’s like to grow up with this crisis. Their ages range from 13 to 29. Each confronts a different face of the crisis, from the coal mines of West Virginia to the drought-stricken plains of Kenya. Their words offer a glimpse into the challenges, heartaches, opportunities, and hope of growing up with climate change.
There is one key theme that unites these young people: the commitment to self-determination. Each has crisis thrust upon them. They know that climate change will inevitably impact their futures, homes, families, communities. There is a sense of doom, of unavoidable catastrophe. They could be passive victims, absorbing the consequences of a warmed world. They could allow climate change to dictate their destiny.
Not these brave champions. They refuse to be defined by the world they inherited. Instead, they define climate change as the opportunity to create a different world. They choose to protect what they love, to create the kind of life that they want, to fight with all their souls for a better future. They define their own fates. They declare that agency, power, and possibility can exist amid crisis.
The courage of youth in the age of climate crisis is to stand up for what is loved rather than to ignore what is feared. It is this courage that will save our world. As J.R.R. Tolkein so famously wrote:
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
“My people are an endangered species.”
Ekai Nabenyo. 23 years old. Active since age 19.
Founder and Chair, Locodein Community Based Organization
Ekai works to build climate resilience in Turkana, Kenya. He started an advocacy organization to engage his community around climate change and the impacts of local oil and gas companies. He also spearheaded a project to build a school in his town. More information here.
I began working with my community for a clean and safe environment after learning about climate change and understanding its impact on my home, Turkana, Kenya—the poorest and driest county in Kenya.