I am not going to begin this op-ed by providing an Oxford English Dictionary definition for the term “climate justice.” While I’m tempted to do so, it wouldn’t encompass the movement that is sweeping youth around the world. I am a climate activist at 12 years old, and my vision of “climate justice” will be different from the vision of most who might be reading this. In my eyes, climate justice pertains to the children.

Decide what climate justice means to you. For many, it means the impoverished across the Earth. Low-income communities, in the U.S. and throughout the world, are especially vulnerable to climate change. They are the people living closest to the oil refineries, the factories. In the event of a natural disaster, they are the ones swamped with water, mud and fire.

When I say “they,” I mean, disproportionately, families of color, immigrants and women. Familiar images associated with people suffering from climate-related issues come from abroad – farmers in Guatemala, hungry without their sun-parched crops. The children of Beijing, choking in heavy smog. In reality, there are struggles much closer to home. Hurricane Harvey dropped 27 trillion gallons of rain upon 13 million people in Texas, most of whom were uninsured and without means to recover.

There is a cruel irony in this situation. Those affected the most are often the ones who practice the most sustainable lifestyles. They are the ones who end up with nothing, while others languish in their soaring New York penthouses. The indigenous peoples of Canada and America are having their water tainted, their fish disappear and their children imperiled. All this, after they took care of their homeland and traditions for 15,000 years. Where is the dignity, the equity?

Mothers in these situations are suffering, facing the fact that their children won’t grow up in a healthy, thriving environment. It is the youth around the world who face a ticking clock. Young climate activists around the world are screaming: “Our lives are in your hands!” The hands they refer to are all the people in power who won’t take action. My future is held by politicians who won’t live to see the crisis they have created.

It has been made clear, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, that we have 12 years to put the brakes on catastrophic carbon emissions. That is the whole of my entire lifetime, and at the deadline, I will be 24 years old. Climate change could destroy my life, and that isn’t hyperbole. Forty-two percent of the world’s population are under 25 – my generation is the physical representation of climate justice.


Governments denying scientific evidence on climate change violates citizens’ rights. The 14th Amendment to the Constitution states: “Nor shall any state deprive any person of life (or) liberty.” Can one deny that having clean water and air is liberty? Alternatively, that having a stable planet to live on qualifies as a prominent aspect of life?

The Supreme Court case Juliana v. the United States tackles these questions. Twenty-one youth plaintiffs sued the Trump administration for not taking sufficient action to uphold their right to a healthy climate. Many attempts have been made to dismiss the case, most notably by the fossil fuel industry – with obvious ulterior motives – posing as defendants.

As a very personal issue for me, I believe youth embody climate justice. Climate justice, the lighthouse guiding ships lost in the dark, encompasses all aspects of human rights. It is more than pure radical environmentalism. Ethics and politics are part of that seeking light, saving those who will crash upon rocky shores.

My message for today is to think. For one person in Maine to put down their coffee, detach from their technology and think about these words I have written. That will be a hard-won triumph. I no longer yearn for progress, since it is already here. The lighthouse is brighter than it has ever been, and the children are its keepers.

Change is coming – the right kind.

Comments are no longer available on this story