Around the world, we have seen a drastic increase in the number of extreme climate events and environmental disasters. Decades of environmental mismanagement already impact—and will continue to impact—communities everywhere, from polluted air and drinking water, to the fires burning through the Amazon Rainforest, extreme cold in the Midwest, and record-breaking heat around the world.
While this is an urgent, global issue, it does not impact all communities equally. Those who have contributed the least to this crisis are the ones to be hit first and worst; disproportionately, communities of color and low-income areas carry the burdens of environmental impacts and climate change. Therefore, communities on the frontlines must have a seat at the table as decision-makers creating a just, livable future.
New Voices Are Rising, a project of the Rose Foundation for Communities and the Environment, is equipping Oakland youth with a foundation of environmental justice, leadership skills, and community activism. These high-school aged leaders reject the notion that they should accept an unlivable world for themselves and their future families. Instead, they are committed to finding solutions and tackling the problems that disproportionately impact their communities’ health and wellness, from air and water pollution; to food deserts; to housing justice; to inequitable access to energy.
The way Jada, Student Co-Coordinator of New Voices’ 2019 Summer Climate Justice Leadership Academy, sees it:
“The fight starts in our own backyard, by educating everyone about the unfair yet strategic burden placed on specific communities to bear the brunt force of floods, fires, and all other [climate] disasters. I am in the position to lead this fight.”
Students in the New Voices program take part in many local efforts to address these issues. The students’ voices have been salient throughout the AB617 process, a state-wide community-driven air action plan; they are working with the West Oakland community to effectively combat the gravity of air pollution, its sources, and associated health impacts. They are the youth leading this effort on the West Oakland Steering Committee, ensuring youth voices remain front and center throughout any decision making.
Students in the New Voices Are Rising program learn their voices are powerful, and they can create real change in their communities, even before they reach voting age. After Donnie participated in the 2019 Summer Climate Justice Leadership Academy, she shared: “The things I’ve participated in this summer made me feel invincible, like I can actually make a change for my community.” She’s even considering pursuing a career in Environmental Justice!
Watch the video below to hear why students in the program are committed to this fight for a clean and just future.
As these students make clear, environmental injustice significantly affects their communities in every aspect of their lives, including the food they eat, the water they drink, and the air they breathe.
Fortunately, young people who are inheriting this legacy and burden are stepping up to the challenge, making their voices heard and demanding a just, livable future for all! They exemplify the kind of fresh, creative thinking and energy we all need to tackle this urgent crisis. This is their fight now. We must embrace our humility and allow ourselves to learn from these younger generations, whose futures are in jeopardy. Let’s follow their lead and secure their futures, together!