If young people inherit the Earth, they want to make sure that they can still live there.
Ania Wright, 24, of Bar Harbor, has already participated in three international climate summits, most recently COP26, the annual United Nations climate change summit where parties work to mitigate climate change. She was disappointed with what she saw at the conference in Glasgow, Scotland.
âIt’s pretty disheartening, to be blunt,â said Wright, a local climate action organizer at Sierra Club Maine and youth representative on the Maine Climate Council. âWe have seen a lot of big statements, but what we really need is real political action and political action. What we are seeing are many statements that are not legally binding and may or may not come true. “
Maine’s youth climate activists are engaged in environmental policy at all levels, from advocating for local zoning adjustments to speaking out at COP26. These Gen Zers believe policymakers are missing out on some of the most important issues of the climate crisis, from removing big polluting companies from the negotiating table to ensuring the Mainers have access to funds. for simple climate solutions, such as bad weather in their homes.
Even those who did not attend COP26 were disappointed with what they saw as minimal emission reduction commitments from developed countries.
“We don’t have the infrastructure, the political will, or an economic system that will support these cuts,” said Amara Ifeji, 19, director of youth engagement and policy at the Maine Environmental Education Association. âThe fossil fuel industries have more representatives in Glasgow than the nations of the world combined. This is frankly alarming. “
While international negotiations often dominate the conversation about climate change, state politics matter just as much to young climate activists. In Maine, many were encouraged by the passage of Question 1, but discouraged by the response from Central Maine Power Co. to continue building the corridor despite the vote to end it. CMP temporarily suspended construction on Friday.
The confusion surrounding the hallway ahead of the election concerned Sirohi Kumar, 17, a founding member of the Climate Emergency Action Coalition in Bar Harbor.
âEvery day when you check your mail you get a different piece of propaganda. I think this approach to a problem is just not effective because it relies on this lack of education, âKumar said. âThe CMP corridor is multifaceted. The best way for us to have effective and fair climate action in Maine, and everywhere, is to focus on discussions from all walks of life that will be impacted by decisions. “
Young activists also focus on issues that aren’t particularly hard-hitting or eye-catching. Wright, for example, advocates weatherizing the older housing stock in Maine – a simple step that can save considerable amounts of energy during the winter – by providing incentives for homeowners or inexpensive alternatives for people who praise.
At the municipal level, Anna Siegel, 15, a key member of Maine Youth for Climate Justice, advocates for changes such as preventing pollutant-laden runoff from flowing into waterways and increasing space green audiences in zoning codes.
Another important issue for many young climate activists in Maine is tribal sovereignty, such as the struggles of the Penobscot Nation for control of the Penobscot River watershed and the fact that the Penobscot Nation has no voting member in the Maine state legislature on environmental issues.
Young activists are also concerned with business interests in environmental issues. For example, Fryeburg-based Luke Sekera-Flanders, 18, said the privatization of water in Maine is an issue that is not adequately covered in the state or internationally.
Aside from the bottled water industry which creates plastic pollution, Sekera-Flanders – a member of the Maine Environmental Education Association and co-founder of the national Community Water Justice network – said that given climate change makes water more scarce, companies should disproportionately benefit from the resources they take from the community.
And while some Gen Z are still in school, they see education as a key part of tackling the climate crisis. Ifeji worked on a climate justice education bill that was introduced in the executive session, but was not passed.
âI only finished two years in high school, but I had no education about climate change,â said Ifeji, who is originally from Bangor but currently attends Boston University. âI thought it was a disservice to me and my peers. We inherit this existential crisis, but we have no idea what’s going on.
Despite their new perspective, Kumar said she and other young activists have no illusions that they can solve the climate crisis on their own.
âThe climate burden is not on children. I don’t have the years of political and business experience that other people have, âKumar said. âWe are an effective tool for entering a space, but many of us are not old enough to learn more about politics and science. “