Meet the young trailblazers leading the movement to combat climate crisis

Around the world, young people, people of colour and members of the LGBT+ community are leading the movement to fight the climate crisis. Here are some of those change-makers taking a stand.

A young black girl who is a climate crisis activist posing outdoors

People of colour are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis. Those across the global south are already facing the impacts – including displacement, exploitation and death due to climate disasters. People of colour are more likely to breathe in polluted air, more likely to live near coal plants and toxic sites (which shorten and impact the quality of life) and are more likely to face poverty, which means less access to healthcare.

So too are LGBT+ people far more likely than their straight, cisgender counterparts to fall into poverty or homelessness. Worldwide, it is estimated that 40% of homeless youth are LGBT+, therefore, putting the community at a greater risk of facing the impacts of ecological breakdown.

Of course, young people everywhere will face the worst of the climate crisis down the line if the damage to our planet continues to worsen.

This is why these communities have long been demanding radical change and it’s high time we listen. With that in mind, here are eight environmental activists we should all pay attention to:

Isra Hirsi 

Isra Hirsi is a 16 year-old climate activist based in Minneapolis. In January 2019, Isra co-founded the US Youth Climate Strike- the American branch of a global youth climate change movement. She did so alongside 12 year-old climate crisis activist Haven Coleman. Since then, she has continued to organise both locally and nationally. Isra has advocated for the Green New Deal and has been speaking out about the need to diversify the environmental justice movement to create space for young people of colour. Isra has been involved in other local social justice movements since her early childhood, mainly focussing on Black Lives Matter. Despite not being old enough to vote yet, Isra is determined to change the agendas of presidential candidates to include climate change preventative measures. She is also the daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, the first Muslim woman and first Somali American in Congress. Due to Isra’s activism, she has amassed almost 80,000 followers across her social media platforms.

Helena Gualinga

Helena is a 17 year-old from a small community in Ecuador called Sarayuku in the Amazon rainforest. Experts say the Amazon rainforest will face further destruction due to increased wildfires as our climate continues to change, placing Helena’s home at risk. She fears that one day her community will no longer exist due to climate change. She says she has been fighting for justice her entire life. She has fought alongside her aunts and uncles against big companies and big oil in order to protect their territories.

Helena uses social media to keep people around the world informed about what is happening in the Amazon. Attending the Global Climate Strike in New York, Gualinga held a sign reading “INDIGENOUS BLOOD, NOT A SINGLE DROP MORE!”

A young Ecuadorian climate crisis activist with tribal designs on her face

Rowan Golden

A photographer and activist with Extinction Rebellion, Rowan Golden is a queer and trans man who joined the group in June. During Extinction Rebellion week, he was one of five people arrested on Thursday, October 11 for locking himself onto the gates of the Dáil. Rowan says he was initially anxious about how he would be treated as a trans person if he was one of the arrested activists. However, he said: “As the protests escalated I was unsurprised to find myself join a group of rebels D-locked onto a gate to the Dáil to demand action from the government.” He says the movement has been empowering, accepting and supportive and plans to continue fighting for climate justice alongside other Extinction Rebellion members.

Saoi O’Connor

Teenage Cork climate crisis activist Saoi O’Connor has been called “Ireland’s Greta Thunberg”. Saoi is 16 years-old and has been striking every week since January 2019 as part of the Fridays for Future movement, holding a placard reading “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” Saoi has now quit mainstream schooling to campaign full time alongside Nobel Prize Nominee Thunberg. She has participated in multiple protests abroad and travelled to attend conferences and debates about climate change, including a debate at the European Parliament. She hopes to one day study law, though for now, she says her activism is her focus and a 24/7 job.

Fiadh Melina

Fiadh is a 24 year-old pansexual climate crisis activist based in Dublin. As a filmmaker, her primary form of activism is through video. Currently, she is working on a climate action short inspired by one of Greta Thunberg’s speeches. She has recorded people of all ages and backgrounds across the world. This film will be released next month. She says: “With words like Greta’s and my little girl counting on me to leave a habitable world behind for her, it’s impossible not to create something to join in the fight against climate change.” She also attends climate protests in Dublin. Fiadh’s father was a longtime environmental activist in Dingle. She says: “I guess it runs in the family.”

Alicia O’Sullivan

18-year-old Alicia O’Sullivan has been a leading voice in youth climate activism for the past few months. Very quickly, Alicia went from protesting alongside a few hundred people in Ireland to 350,000 in New York City. She was chosen to represent Ireland at the UN Climate Summit in September. Alicia is also a Young Ocean Ambassador. Attending the Ocean Wealth Summit in June, Alicia had the opportunity to discuss climate issues with former US Secretary of State, John Kerry, and Táinaiste Simon Coveney. She has been involved in other types of activism, such as working on the reform of sexual education in Ireland and the development of ‘GenerationZ’, a project aimed at helping parents understand their children regarding mental health and LGBT+ matters.

A young white female climate crisis activist smiling while standing in a park

Gary Kett

Gary Kett is a 26-year-old marine ecologist based in Cork City. He is openly gay and joined Extinction Rebellion in the Spring of 2019. He says: “Getting familiar with the research I realised that we in Ireland will be seeing increasing demands for diminishing resources such as food, water and security, in the very near future. The political and social injustice that this will bring is too big to ignore as minorities and those less privileged will be the first to suffer, both globally and nationally. This scared me into action.” However, he says that after multiple peaceful, non-violent protests, community-building and bonding with the other activists, he feels inspired and will continue to protest government inaction as well as help to create a fair, welcoming and inclusive society.

Saoirse Sexton

Saoirse Sexton is a 14-year-old Limerick girl who started up the Limerick chapter of the Friday For Futures movement early this year and has been striking weekly since. Saoirse co-wrote a motion to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency in her home city which was passed by Limerick Metropolitan Council. Saoirse was recently named Limerick Person of the Month for her contribution to climate change. As she continues her work in climate activism, she will go forward to next year’s Limerick Person of the Year awards.

An edited version of this article originally appeared in GCN’s Annual Youth Edition, the November 2019 issue. Read the full issue here.

© 2019 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.

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