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How young people are navigating climate change

Emma Weber attended a protest in Washington D.C. during September for the reintroduction of the Green New Deal for Public Schools Act. (Heather Chen)
Emma Weber attended a protest in Washington D.C. during September for the reintroduction of the Green New Deal for Public Schools Act. (Heather Chen)

If left unchecked, climate change will lead to disastrous consequences. We’re already seeing it happen: wildfires turning skies across the country orange, summer temperatures reaching record highs and a megadrought in the West. Young people are among the most concerned about climate change as they’re the ones primed to inherit the world.

High school students Leanne Nasser, a senior at Fordson High School in Dearborn, Michigan, and Emma Weber, a junior at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, are two of those young people taking notice. They say their plans for the future and current reality have been impacted by climate change.

“There’s so much anger and sadness with the younger generation that we’ve kind of just been given this huge burden that generations before us caused,” Weber says.

Interview Highlights

On how climate change is showing up in their own lives

Leanne Nasser: “The impact of the Ford Rouge factory and the Marathon oil refinery in our area, it’s led to very toxic air. I think it’s estimated like 650 Detroiters every year die out of the consequences of pollution in that area.

“I lived in southwest Detroit for the first five years of my life and much of my older siblings and parents lived there for even longer. I have four siblings, three of which have asthma. I have relatives who never had asthma up until they came to southwest Detroit. So, there’s a lot of health issues… It’s not pretty.”

Emma Weber attends an environmental protest calling on President Biden to declare a climate emergency. (Matt Ellis-Ramírez)

Emma Weber: “Specifically for me, living in Colorado, I think climate change shows up the most with the fires that we’ve had. A couple of years ago, there were two really bad fires pretty much right in a row.

“One of them burnt like 1,000 houses in my community. A lot of the students I go to school with lost their homes. And just a few months after, there was another fire that evacuated pretty much everyone I know, including myself.”

On how climate change is impacting their political leanings

Nasser: “Earlier this year, Biden approved of the Willow Project, which gained a lot of controversy. It’s something that I definitely don’t support and I don’t think it should be implemented.

“I was also looking into other presidential candidates, and you look at Marianne Williamson who said the first thing she’s going to do is cancel the Willow Project. So yeah, I think environment definitely plays a factor into who I’ll consider eventually.”

On talking about climate change with their peers and adults in their lives

Leanne Nasser takes notes for AP Environmental Science, a class where she learned about climate change. (Courtesy of Leanne Nasser)

Weber: “I think it’s tricky since, right now, we kind of have this divide between young people and older people on the climate.

“I think there’s a bit of disconnect that sometimes makes it hard to have conversations with people who are older than me about climate. But I think generally we can find a shared understanding of the hardships that climate change has made us go through.”

On concerns they have about climate change

Weber: “I think when it comes to the climate crisis, I’m very angry. If you look at the history of how we got here, it’s pretty infuriating the things that people did to cause us to be in this situation right now. And you look at a lot of really wealthy people who are in power and are the heads of fossil fuel companies, and they’re pretty much destroying my generation’s future just for their own money. And so I think that it’s really angering to look at what’s happening around us.

“I worry about those concrete effects of climate change — like seeing the climate disasters and the weather — but also about the intersectional-ness of the climate crisis. So since the climate crisis makes all of these other crises worse, like housing and food insecurity and poverty are all increasing with climate change. I think that’s really scary to think about.

“Climate change disproportionately impacts different communities; climate change is making racial and economic inequalities worse. That just makes me scared and anxious to think about.”

On whether young people can make a difference

Nasser: “As of now, I don’t think there’s a lot I can do. Of course, there’s protesting. There’s signing petitions. In the future, as we see more electrical vehicles implemented, I’d hope to own one, one day. I’d hope to shift the reliance on oil and gas.”

Weber: “There are ways that we can be really powerful and really impactful. And young people are at the forefront of all of this change. We can see a lot of examples happening right now, already, of how young people are choosing to use their power to really make big influences on the government or different companies or changes in their own lives and their communities.”


Hafsa Quraishi produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Catherine Welch. Quraishi also adapted it for the web.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.