As climate issues have become more prominent, young people are more aware than ever their own future is at stake. They are standing up for their beliefs, educating and spreading awareness in their communities and around the world.
Educating youth about the environment and the effects of climate change are more important than ever. These young environmental activists prove that anyone, no matter their age, can truly make a difference.
Check out these 6 inspirational young leaders who are on the frontlines of the fight to protect our environment.
1) Lesein Mutunkei – Kenya
Planting trees since he was 7 years old, Lesein learned at a young age about the effects of climate change and deforestation in his country. As an avid footballer, he decided to combine his passions and came up with the idea of planting a tree for every goal he scored. He soon got his classmates, teachers, school and eventually his government involved in his tree-planting projects, Trees4Goals.
At the age of 15, Lesein attended the UN Youth Climate Summit and was even invited to meet Kenya’s President to plant a tree with him. He has big dreams of planting forests all over Africa and even getting FIFA involved.
“You are never too small or too young to make an impact. Everything you do, however small, counts.” -Lesein Mutunkei
2) Mari Copeny – USA
Image: Twitter @littlemissflint
During the Flint, Michigan water crisis in 2014, Mari (aka Little Miss Flint) penned a letter to President Obama asking for a meeting. Close to 100,000 of the city’s residents (mostly Black and low income), were exposed to dangerous levels of lead in their drinking water.
Mari, exposed to the lead-filled water herself, has continued to advocate for her community and its children, making sure they have access to clean water and school supplies through the #PackYourBackChallenge. She has worked with the United Nations’ Girl Up Initiative and is the youngest Women’s March Youth Ambassador.
“When people see me, a 10-year-old helping others, they sometimes want to be able to help others too.” – Mari Copeny
3) Autumn Peltier – Wiikwemkoong First Nation in Canada
Image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-United Nations-Manuel Elias MANDATORY CREDIT
Inspired by her aunt who also fought for the right to clean water, Autumn has been considered a “water protector” by tribal chiefs since she was 8 years old. Autumn Peltier is Anishinaabe-kwe and a member of the Wiikwemkoong First Nation in Canada. Her people have seen first-hand the dangerous effects of fossil fuel pipelines spilling and contaminating their waterways, a sacred element in their culture. This injustice has fueled the teen’s advocacy as hundred’s of First Nation communities do not have direct access to clean water.
Autumn has since met with Canada’s Prime Minister, spoken at the UN, and was nominated for the International Children’s Peace Prize due to her fight for the right to clean water.
The international water advocate says that she wants to be prime minister or minister of the environment one day.
“I like to share that water is really sacred. Water is life. Mother Earth doesn’t need us, we need her.” – Autumn Peltier
4) Stella Bowles – Canada
Image: Book cover of My River: Cleaning Up the LaHave River by Stella Bowles, Anne Laurel Carter (With)
At the age of 11, Stella was upset she couldn’t swim in the LaHave River (her town’s namesake) in Nova Scotia, Canada. After learning about the toxicity of the water Stella decided to test her for herself as part of a science project. She shared the shocking results with the community and gained national attention and even an award. Stella has been working with the provincial government and raising funds to replace straight pipes, sewage pipes that come straight from toilets into waterways. As well as teaching other teens how to test the water and take action against any pollution.
Stella also co-wrote a book, My River: Cleaning Up the LaHave River, in which she describes her experiences becoming a young activist for a cause so close to her heart.
“I hope it can show them that your age shouldn’t put a limit on what you can do. Age is just a number.” – Stella Bowles
5 & 6) Ella and Caitlin McEwan – United Kingdom
After learning in school about the harmful effects of plastics on the environment, Ella (10) and Catlin McEwan (8), started petitions asking McDonald’s and Burger King to stop offering plastic toys with their children’s meals. Their petitions garnered over half a million signatures putting immense pressure on the fast-food companies.
Their hard work and advocacy for the ocean and environment have paid off. Burger King and McDonald’s have both since announced changes to their giveaway programs to instead offer more sustainable products like books, fruit, or even allowing parents to opt-out of a gift altogether. They even have implemented recycling programs so people can return old toys which can be recycled into play equipment or food trays.
They wanted companies to “think of the environment and stop giving plastic toys with their children’s meals” noting that “Children only play with the plastic toys they give us for a few minutes before they get thrown away and harm animals and pollute the sea.” – Ella and Caitlin McEwan
Children are the future. They are the answer to the issues our planet is facing which is why it is so important that youth have access to environmental education. Education has the power to make children feel empowered and confident that they can make a real difference.
These children, having seen first-hand the issues facing their communities and our planet, made the decision to use their voices to spread awareness and take action. They also make it very clear that it doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, or even your age, that anyone can protect the environment.