Image above from left: Gabby Tan, Tara Santos, and Pamela Elizarraras Acitores. Photos courtesy of subjects.
This Earth Day was supposed to be a major event for climate activism. Calls for immediate strong action to combat global warming had been getting louder and more strident for years, and the 2020 U.S. elections represent a tipping point in the decades-long political battle over the climate, giving the usual slate of mass Earth Day protests and other actions more weight than normal.
But the global pandemic has not just diverted the world’s attention away from climate change as an issue, it’s limited what activists are able to do. Most of them have had to organize actions while sheltering in place, and protests have to be virtual, without the usual visuals of huge crowds and pithy slogans on signs.
That doesn’t mean activists are slacking off, however—around the world, passionate organizers have together made alternate plans, ranging from virtual poetry slams to livestreamed events to social media campaigns. Below are the thoughts of nine young activists from six countries as they confront the strangest Earth Day in history.
Grace Yang, 15, Massachusetts
For Earth Day, I’m helping to plan Earth Day Live, which is a 72-hour digital mobilization run by the US Climate Strike Coalition. We’ll have performances, webinars, workshops, and more, bringing people together amidst this pandemic. You can sign up here.
Local organizing is the most important organizing, and with my group Fridays For Future Massachusetts, we’re doing three events for Earth Day Week. On the Thursday, we’re planning a virtual art build that will focus on solidarity with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe—the U.S. government recently disestablished their reservation, causing a massive loss of needed resources during the COVID-19 crisis. On the Friday, we’re hosting a poetry slam on climate change that will bring people together through poetry and storytelling to process the crisis we’re in. [Attend the slam here.] The weekend after Earth Day, we’ll be live streaming interviews with local politicians to educate people on climate policy. [If you’re from Massachusetts, you can register here.]
I think it’s beautiful how we’re coming together and building hope despite the fear of the coronavirus pandemic, how even the virus couldn’t stop us from mobilizing from our homes.
Grace Yang is a 15-year-old climate justice organizer with Fridays For Future from Massachusetts.
Tara Santos, 22, Philippines
My Earth Day plans looked a lot different one month ago. I thought I would be marching down the streets of New York City alongside other climate activists, demanding individuals and governments to act justly on the climate crisis. Instead, I’m demanding change this Earth Day by posting selfies, hashtags and long captions online from my bedroom in the Philippines. A small part of me feels like doing activism online is cheating, because instead of doing walkouts from my university classrooms or die-ins in front of government buildings, I’m joining digital climate strikes through my computer screen.
At first, it didn’t even feel right to be focusing on environmental activism when my entire island in the Philippines was (and still is) under enhanced community quarantine. I was constantly reading about daily wage workers losing their jobs, communities of color being impacted the most by COVID-19, and thousands of masks and gloves being carelessly thrown away on sidewalks as a result of the pandemic. I felt hopeless because people were refusing to see the pandemic’s relation to the climate crisis, especially when it felt like I couldn’t do anything about it from home.
Then my friend Ayisha Sidiqqa invited Extinction Rebellion Philippines, the climate activist group that I’m national coordinator of, to join We the Planet—a digital Earth Day campaign that she and a few other youth climate activists started. The campaign will take place through online photo/video pledges, live webinars, and youth-written op-eds to keep conversations about the climate crisis alive amidst the pandemic.
I hope that people start to see the relevance of what we stand for and continue to act with the environment in mind, because there’s no way we’re going to get true systemic change without individual change first.
Tara Santos is a 22-year-old climate activist from Manila, Philippines, studying at the New School in New York City whose personal activism focuses on eradicating plastic pollution through looking at systems of colonialism, capitalism and classism.
Pamela Elizarraras Acitores, 22, New York City
A big part of my climate justice activism has been photographing young activists. I began documenting the movement on a March Friday in 2019. Since then, I began dedicating most of my Fridays to demanding climate action outside—and sometimes inside—U.N. Headquarters and New York’s City Hall. Most Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays were spent organizing with the Youth Climate Coalition, Extinction Rebellion Universities and XR Youth.
The youth climate movement was on a roll. But only because we have to be. We know that 2020 is the make-or-break year for climate policy. As [Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change] Christiana Figueres says, “the 2020s will be the most definitive decade in human history.” September 20 broke world records for climate action, and Earth Week was planned to go beyond that. With an outraged feeling that the most recent UN climate conference had failed us, we wanted to make the 50th anniversary of Earth Day a historic event.
Ironically, this Earth Day will be historic, but not for the reasons our coalition had anticipated. Today feels different, but also exciting. In a truly youthful activist manner, we have been able to create a digital global action in a limited timeframe and in a rapidly changing panorama. This effort has not only let us take action #TogetherAtHome, but has also allowed the movement to continue to grow. Today, I will be posting a video via @besomeone.world in collaboration with @we.theplanet, pledging what I will do this year, both individually and systematically, to accelerate climate action. I invite you to join us by posting a video with your pledge! Remember 2020 is a critical year for our future.
Pamela Elizarraras Acitores is a 22-year-old Mexican youth activist and photographer based in New York City who focuses on issues such as climate change, immigration and ocean conservancy. She currently works internationally with the youth-led movements Extinction Rebellion, Fridays For Future and her own campaign, Be Someone. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @besomeone.world
Gabby Tan, 18, Malaysia
Like billions of others, much of my everyday life has been flipped upside down. My April plans—including lobbying opportunities with politicians, Earth Day events and high school graduation festivities—were abruptly replaced by a strict movement control order here in Malaysia.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the privilege to continue working with youth activists from all around the world from my bedroom. This digital Earth Day, I’ll be learning from back-to-back webinars, writing to my member of Parliament, and starting on my climate action pledges. Although we can’t take to the streets like we normally would, the climate crisis isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we. I haven’t been able to leave the house in six weeks, but I feel more connected to nature and the youth climate movement than ever before.
With every day that the coronavirus spreads, marginalized and vulnerable communities continue to be hit the hardest, demonstrating our system’s failure to care for people and our planet. The pandemic has also highlighted our poor resilience in the face of crises, and provided a bleak taste of our climate readiness. At the same time, if there’s any silver lining to the current pandemic, I’ve found solace in our ability to act collectively and make drastic changes in line with science, which is exactly how we’ll overcome the climate crisis.
One way you can take action is by committing to pursuing an individual action and a systemic action as part of We The Planet’s International Day of Digital Action. Learn about how the climate crisis will affect your community, educate those around you, demand action from your representatives, and don’t back down until we secure the livable and just future we deserve.
Gabby is an 18-year-old from Malaysia who works with organizations including We The Planet, Earth Uprising, and Fridays For Future Digital. She is currently also leading a digital climate education initiative and helping to support the refugees within her community through this pandemic.
Brooke Dwyer, 16, Ireland
This is the first Earth Day that I am celebrating as an activist. My journey of getting involved in environmentalism and sustainability started about a year ago. Climate activism has taken me further than I could’ve ever imagined and made me a better person. I have met incredible people who are so dedicated to changing our world for the better and I have seen the good work that can be done to help protect our planet. This Earth Day feels like the celebration of a milestone for me.
It is a strange celebration, however, as I am currently on lockdown due to the coronavirus, though I will be participating in the digital strikes organized by Fridays For Future, and also be involved with the day of action from We The Planet.
The situation has definitely given me some food for thought. We have seen that governments do possess the capacity to address and deal with a crisis in a quick and effective manner. So why have they been ignoring the climate crisis for so long? Why has it been left unaddressed? I can only hope that people will realize that we could have many more crises like this pandemic, when dealing with flooding, air pollution and other catastrophic effects that come with climate breakdown and that more measures will be taken to prevent this. I hope governments will begin to take other approaching crises more seriously.
Brooke Dwyer is a 16-year-old Fridays For Future member from Dublin, Ireland.
Mariana Janer Agrelot, 17, Puerto Rico
Photo courtesy of Mariana Janer Agrelot
The last three years have been very tiresome for Puerto Ricans. We are still not fully recovered from Hurricane Maria. Although we are under the strictest measures of quarantine in the United States (if Puerto Rico is even considered part of the U.S.), the isolation and loneliness has really taken a toll on our mental health.
This Earth Day, I am angry. I am angry because time and time again the youth has been failed by higher-ups. We will make sure that a pandemic will not be a barrier, we will scream to the heavens till we receive true reform in order to prevent another natural disaster escalated by the effects of climate change from ravaging my island.
Seventeen-year-old Mariana Janer-Agrelot is a member of the San Juan–based Puerto Rico Student Activism Coalition.
Mohammad Ahmadi, 16, Chicago
Photo courtesy of Mohammad Ahmadi
In a short time period, local, national, and international organizers have been forced to rethink and reshape their planned actions and move them online. Despite this, however, I believe that we will be able to voice our concerns and demands as strongly as ever.
For Earth Day, I have been working with my fellow Earth Uprising Youth Staff members and U.S. City Coordinators to create videos that will be featured during Earth Day Live, a three-day livestream that begins on Earth Day. Our videos will emphasize the importance of climate education and the lack of it in not only the U.S. but the whole world. I am also working with the team members of the Hinsdale Climate Coalition, a local group that I founded last year, and Earth Uprising Chicago to organize online actions and activities like a digital strike, a live educational Kahoot, and an Earth Day–themed TikTok competition.
Mohammad Ahmadi is a 16-year-old junior. He was born in Tehran and now lives in the Chicago area, and serves as communications coordinator for Earth Uprising International. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Allison Lin, 15, Japan
Photo courtesy of Allison Lin.
For past Earth Days, I’ve spent the weeks before planning for Earth Week at my school. This year was no different. Outside of school, I was working with Fridays For Future Japan to prepare for the April 24 global climate march. With an ambitious goal of mobilizing 20,000 people, we had eagerly begun planning new march routes and setting up media campaigns.
While COVID-19 has rendered this vision impossible, the pandemic has powerful lessons for the world. Lives can be lost or saved depending on whether we heed the warnings of scientists and take rapid, decisive action. If we return back to business as usual under the current political climate after the pandemic, the consequences will be alarming.
This is why, on Earth Day 2020, I’m turning to social media to voice my message. I will post the number “26” on Instagram as part of a campaign to raise awareness on just how insufficient Japan’s Nationally Determined Contribution under the Paris Agreement is. I will also pledge the individual and systemic action I will commit to for the year as part of We The Planet.
Yun-Tzu (Allison) Lin is a 15-year old Taiwanese youth activist based in Kobe, Japan. She works nationally with the youth NGO Climate Youth Japan as the international outreach coordinator and Fridays For Future Kobe as an organizer. She also works internationally with Fridays For Future, Polluters Out, and We The Planet. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Kyara Cascante, 16, Costa Rica
Outside we can observe how the Earth regenerates without humans interfering in it. This shows us that the system in which we live is not right—it was never right. We must work to create a new economic, social and cultural system that respects and preserves nature.
Through We The Planet campaign, a large number of young people have joined us to act from each of our territories and homes. Since we cannot gather on the streets, we will do it online, where we seek to mobilize organizations, influencers, schools and the general public to make a climate commitment on this Earth Day.
Join us. On this Earth Day I invite you to reinvent yourself.
Kyara Cascante is 16 years old and works with 1,000 Actions for a Change, Juventud sin Fronteras Latinoamerica, Fridays For Future Costa Rica, Todxs somos Costa Rica, Red de Jóvenes Rurales de Costa Rica, Cantonal Commitee of Young Person and the Red Internacional Promotores de los ODS.