16 Young Environmentalists Changing the World
August 10, 2021
Irsa Hirsi, 18, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Isra Hirsi is an outspoken advocate for climate solutions and racial justice, and she co-founded and directs the US Youth Climate Strike. This organization hosts youth strikes twice a year across the nation to raise awareness for these two causes. She started as a high school freshman by encouraging students in her school to join an environmental club. She strives to create diversity within the climate justice movement, bringing the perspective of a black Muslim woman to the climate change world.
Greta Thunberg, 18, Stockholm, Sweden
Greta Thunberg has become a familiar face in the world of environmental activism. When she was just a freshman in high school, Thunberg won a climate change essay contest hosted by a newspaper in Sweden. She took a stand when she pledged to avoid going to school until the Swedish government met her demands to reduce carbon emissions. Social media took note, and soon other activists joined her. Her speech during the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference went viral, making her a household name and the face of youth advocating for change.
Mari Copeny, 13, Flint, Michigan
Known as “Little Miss Flint,” Mari Copeny gained national fame when she wrote to President Obama about the water crisis in her city. This prompted the president to visit the city and approve a $100 million relief package. Now 13, Mari continues to fight against environmental injustice, participating in the National Climate March and speaking about the Flint water crisis to national groups. She also produced a reusable water filter that people can use to make unclean water safe to drink.
Xiye Bastida, 19, Atlacomulco, Mexico
Xiye Bastida is a climate activist of the Otomi Toltec Nation, one of the indigenous cultures of Mexico. She organized Fridays for Future in New York City and is working to increase diversity within the climate activism community. She is an administrator for the People’s Climate Movement and co-founder of the Re-Earth Initiative. Her work in the climate change world started with an environmental club in Albany that lobbied for the Climate and Community Leaders Protection Act and the Dirty Buildings Bill. In 2018, she spoke to the United Nations World Urban Forum.
Autumn Peltier, 16, Wikwemikong, Canada
This Canadian activist fights for clean drinking water in First Nations communities. She is from the Wikwemikong First Nation on Manitoulin Island and has seen first-hand the challenges that come from a lack of clean drinking water. In 2018, she addressed the United Nations General Assembly for World Water Day. In 2019, the Anishinabek Nation named Peltier their Chief Water Commissioner in recognition of her activism.
Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana, 25, Eugene, Oregon
In 2015, Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana led a group of youth between the ages of 8 and 19 to file a lawsuit against the federal government. In the lawsuit, they asked the court to order the government to take action on the issue of climate change. According to the plaintiffs, failing to act on climate change violates the Constitutional requirement of the government to promote the general welfare. She became a household name at 19 when Kelsey Cascadia Rose Juliana vs. the USA went to trial. Since the lawsuit, Juliana continues to speak at rallies and conferences both nationally and internationally.
Celeste Tinajero, 25, Reno, Nevada
Celeste Tinajero became an advocate for change as a sophomore in high school. At that time, she led a student group called Eco Warriors and helped raise $12,000 to make her school’s bathrooms more eco-friendly. The following year the club raised money for a water bottle refilling station in the school. After graduation, she worked to educate local elementary students about renewable energy and is developing curriculum through AmeriCorps to teach water and waste conservation.
Hannah Herbst, 20, Boca Raton, Florida
Hanna Herbst developed an ocean energy probe prototype that can create stable power for developing countries using the energy of ocean currents. She has also been exploring identification methods for airborne hazards. In 2015, she won the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge in recognition of her efforts. She has spoken at the United Nations, the USA Science and Engineering Festival, and at the Social Innovation Summit.
Jackson Hinkle, 21, San Clemente, California
When he was in high school, Jackson Hinkle led an initiative to install solar panels at six high school campuses and a district office in his school district. This inspired a love for activism, and he went on to campaign to reduce a school district’s plastic consumption by 9,000 pounds a year. As a young adult, Hinkle has been asked to brief presidential candidates on environmental issues and has taken a role as a founding member of his county’s Community Choice Alliance, a group committed to finding greener energy sources.
Delaney Anne Reynolds, 21, Miami, Florida
Delaney Anne Reynolds is the founder of The Sink or Swim Project, a website and organization dedicated to raising awareness of rising sea levels and its potential impact on the state of Florida. In 2016, she offered a moving TEDx Talk emphasizing the potential for catastrophe if change does not occur.
Annabel Caren Clark, 22, Dallas, Texas
Annabel Caren Clark started her environmental activism in small ways by encouraging classmates to plant milkweed to help monarch butterflies migrate successfully. Her passion for environmentalism grew as she did, leading her to discover the Panda Ambassador World Wildlife Fund program. It inspired her to start the World Wildlife Fund Club at her school, raising awareness of the plight of species around the globe. Her efforts to inspire change earned her the Hendrix College Book Award.
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez, 21, Boulder, Colorado
Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a Hip Hop artist using his art and music to inspire people to make a difference for the planet. He is the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, an organization that inspires and trains youth to be more environmentally savvy. Martinez serves as a plaintiff in the Colorado fracking lawsuit seeking to put a stop to this damaging environmental practice. He has also sued the US government for failing to act on climate change.
Lesein Mutunkei, 16, Nairobi, Kenya
In March of 2021, this Kenyan native published How You Can Save the Planet, a book to inspire young people to make changes in their daily lives that will have a long-lasting environmental impact. He also started Trees for Goals, a school-based program that plants trees for goals scored in football games. He attended the first UN Youth Climate Summit in New York at the age of 15.
Leah Namugerwa, 17, Uganda
Greta Thunberg inspired Leah Namugerwa to advocate for tree planting in Uganda at 13 years of age. She also started a petition to make businesses enforce the plastic bag ban in her country. On her 15th birthday, she planted 200 trees in lieu of a party. She then launched the Birthday Trees project which gives seedlings to other young people who would also like to forego a party in favor of planting trees. In 2019, she began organizing school strikes to bring attention to her activism goals.
Jamie Margolin, 19, Seattle, Washington
Jamie Margolin is the former co-executive of Zero Hour, an organization raising awareness about the lack of political response to climate change issues and natural disasters. She is a plaintiff in the Aji P. v. Washington case, a lawsuit against the state of Washington for its inaction regarding climate change. She lent her voice to a panel called “Voices Leading the Next Generation on the Global Climate Crisis” in 2019, speaking before the United States House of Representatives on these serious issues.
Sophia Kianni, 20, Mclean, Virginia
When she was in middle school, Sophia Kianni became interested in climate activism after seeing how smog blocked out the stars at night. She joined Fridays for Future, a group organized by Greta Thunberg, and took part in the 2019 Black Friday climate strike. She founded Climate Cardinals, an international nonprofit that gathers youth to fight climate change. She is the youngest member of the United Nations Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change, representing American and global interests to world leaders.
How to Become an Environmental Activist
If you have been inspired by the work of these young people, you can also work to enact change. Becoming an environmental activist doesn’t need to start with a speech in front of the United Nations. Like Leah Namugerwa, it may start with planting a tree. Or it could be by making changes in local schools like Jackson Hinkle. Soon these small actions grow into community meetings and change, which can lead to city-wide, state and even regional changes. Before long, your voice could be heard by national and international leaders. But, even if you don’t care to gain national attention, the small changes you make can add up over time. If everyone becomes an environmental activist in their area, the changes will quickly move across the globe.
If you want to be more proactive as an environmental change agent, a degree in conservation or environmental science can help. Unity College offers several programs that can provide the right foundation. A B.S. in Conservation Law Enforcement can give you the training you need to take an official role in protecting the environment. This degree merges criminal justice with environmental studies to train students for roles such as that of game warden. A B.S. in Environmental Science lays the foundation for a career in sustainability and community environmental planning. It also provides a strong focus on using the sciences to find solutions to environmental problems. A B.S. in Environmental Studies focuses on the social and economic factors that play a role in environmental issues. Each of these degrees is available as a hybrid program, providing students with flexibility to pursue their training in a way that fits their schedule and interests.