I interviewed 54 young women climate activists for my book "Climate Girls Saving Our World" to find out their values and visions for the future.
The current climate movement leaders are younger than previous activist, Generation Z, and the most prominent are girls. They emphasize climate justice, referring to the harm the climate crisis does to disadvantaged people—including women. They use the word “intersectional” to point out that issues are interlaced, a reaction to the focus on the single issue of technology in the earlier environmental movement and sexism in the Second Wave of the women’s movement. They advocate system change, starting with government Green New Deals.
The activists advocate replacing the consumption-driven growth economy model with a circular renewable economy that doesn’t waste. They angrily fault adults for not acting on the crisis and are afraid for their future. In every leadership group of youth climate organizations I’ve researched, the large majority are girls. I wrote about Gen Y activists in a series of books and wrote a book titled Resist about how to be a changemaker, so it seemed a no-brainer to research Climate Girls Saving Our World. No other social issue is relevant if we destroy our environment and climate, and girls are leading the battle to save us.
Because girls created most of the recent climate organizations like FFF (Fridays for Future), Youth for Future Africa, and Polluters Out, I interviewed 54 young women climate activists in 2019 and 2020, using snowball sampling as they recommended other girls around the world. I also contacted youth climate organizations for their nominations. My initial letter and interview questions are on the global youth webpage. My intent was to learn about their tactics, how they organize, their goals, and what biographical factors led them to be courageous and dedicated changemakers.
When she was 15, Greta Thunberg started the “climate revolution” with her first school strike in August 2018 in front of the Swedish parliament building, holding a sign translated as “School Strike for the Climate.” She said, “Unite behind the science, that is our demand.” She called climate change the biggest crisis in human history, which requires ending fossil fuel investment and GGEs. She and other young activists want to keep global warming from going higher than the 1.5° C recommended by the IPCC report of October 2018.
“Women-led movements arising around the world herald a profound shift that changes everything,” according to Osprey Orielle-Lake, Leila Salazar, and Lynne Twist speaking at a Bioneers conference. They point to the women leading the Green Energy Revolution in Africa, protecting the Amazonian rainforest, and peacemaking in Liberia. Some speak of a Feminist Climate Renaissance, described in All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, an anthology by Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katharine Wilkinson. They describe women as “rooted in compassion, connection, creativity, and collaboration.” Wilkinson relates the feminine to life-giving energy and working with living systems rather than trying to conquer them. Johnson advises understanding the climate crisis as a leadership crisis, dominated by the patriarchy.
Activists value flat or horizontal organizing, where everyone is valued and has a voice, rather than hierarchical structures. Hence, they form coalitions like Polluters Out and work with older groups like Greenpeace or Amnesty International. An Indian activist in the Climate Girls book explained, “I don't think it's completely possible to have a flat structure when one person is spending say five hours a day compared to someone who's spending an hour a day on a particular topic. So that is hierarchy but at least it's democratic in that it's voted upon. Effective organizations develop transparent communication channels and a self-organizing structure so that everyone can get involved.”
Leah “Green Girl” Thomas views the “explosion of art” as revolutionary, as in posting on Tik-Tok with dancing, graphics, poetry, etc. Easily recognized images and symbols are useful tools to convey a message like images of the earth in distress. My photos of Miami student art show many images of the earth melting like an ice cream cone. Other images are animals in distress such as polar bears marooned on ice floes, replicated by demonstrators wearing polar bear costumes in die-ins, or photos of koala bears with burnt paws from Australian bushfires. Cartoon heroines deliver a powerful message, like Luh Ayu Manik, a 14-year-old Indonesian heroine who transforms into an environmental protector superhero confronting illegal loggers and other environmental villains.
In summary, young women activists’ view of the future is a new circular economic system with great attention to social justice and equality. They view youth, especially girls, as the ones to lead the revolutionary changes.
See a video of her discussion with naturalist David Attenborough and the I am Greta documentary film on Hulu.
“Want Peace in Syria? Put Women at the Negotiating Table,” Women’s UN Report Network, February 1, 2016.
“Indonesian Superhero Cartoon Fights for the Environment and the Balinese Language,” Global Voices, February 19, 2020.