Campus News

Teenage social justice leader highlights the role of youth in climate activism

Sixteen-year-old climate change speaker Xiuhtezcatl Martinez spoke about engaging young people in environmental discussions at Union South Monday. 

Image By: Luisa de Vogel

The conversation about climate change has left young people disengaged and disenfranchised from the larger conversation surrounding the topic, according to climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.

Martinez spoke to a crowd of UW-Madison community members Monday to kick off Earth Week. He is the recipient of the 2015 Nickelodeon Halo Award, the 2015 Peace First Prize and served as a member of the 2013 President’s Youth Council. A high school student himself, he offered students ways to become involved in climate activism.

“A really important thing that I’ve learned is that translating this into a way that engages people is incredibly important,” Martinez said.

Flooding in Martinez’s hometown of Boulder, Colo., motivated him to educate other young people about the dangers of climate change. Seeing the expensive damages left behind by the flooding led him to question how poorer communities can combat climate change.

After children in Colorado and other states where fracking is common started to display health problems, Martinez worked with other youth to ban the practice in his county.

“The ban is going to lift May 1, and they’re going to be able to infiltrate my community, so that’s actually threatening the clean air—the clean water the health of my community, of my little siblings, of my mom,” Martinez said.

Martinez works to break down the assumption that environmental activism is separate from or less of a priority than social justice activism. He said science does not interest him, but his passions lie in helping communities.

“Climate change is going to affect everybody. It’s not just an issue about how quickly the atmosphere is warming up, but it’s actually human lives that are at stake, Martinez said.

He said climate change has displaced more people than war, and by the end of the century it will have displaced one billion people.

Martinez added that environmental activists face less political support because climate change has become a polarized issue.

“We live on the same planet, we breath the same air, we drink the same water, and regardless of the color of our skin, our race, whatever god we believe in or where we come from, this planet is the only home we’ve got,” Martinez said.

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