Last week, we were pleased to honor some of today’s biggest advocates for the planet across the arts, journalism, social activism, and the private sector at Earth Day Network’s Climate Leadership Gala. TODAY Weatherman Al Roker was recognized for changing the world of reporting on climate change, actress and filmmaker Ashley Bell was celebrated for her commitment to the protection of our species, specifically the Asian elephant, and Saleforce’s Suzanne DiBianca was honored for her leadership in making Salesforce one of the world’s leading private sector companies on climate action.
Among the luminaries, leaders across their field for decades, was one who had not even been born as the others were embarking upon their careers or were already well-established in them. She’s too young to vote. She’s too young to even drive. This awardee was a 14-year-old girl, Alexandria Villaseñor.
Alexandria has spent the last 5 months striking every week outside of the United Nations headquarters in New York to protest the state of our planet and what she sees as political inaction from leaders. Inspired by Fridays For Future founder and fellow student striker Greta Thunberg, Alexandria has braved the rain, wind, and the bitter New York winter to make her message known.
Last month, Alexandria also announced the launch of her own nonprofit, Earth Uprising, which aims to support and hasten the youth climate movement
We spoke to Alexandria about her origin story, her mission, and her new nonprofit. Here’s what she had to say:
Justine Sullivan: Hi, I am Justine Sullivan with Earth Day Network, and we’re here with Alexandria Villasenor, 13-year-old (Editor’s note: Since this interview was conducted, Alexandria turned 14 – happy birthday Alexandria!) climate activist who has been striking outside of the UN Headquarters in New York for the last five months now. Alexandria, it’s great to see you.
Alexandria Villaseñor: Thank you for having me!
Justine: So we’re here today, the day after the Earth Day Network’s 2019 Climate Leadership Gala, which brought together a bunch of luminaries across the arts, journalism, climate activism of course, in the private sector. Alexandria was one of our awardees, you received a Youth Climate Leadership award. Now, as I see it, you truly are a superhero, you’re doing unbelievable, superhuman things, and at such a remarkable young age. So, every superhero has an origin story, tell us about yours — How did you first get involved? What inspired you to act? What told you that striking was the way forward?
Alexandria: I guess my origin story was I used to live in California. I moved to New York City this past August, but I was visiting family in California about Thanksgiving, and that was when the Paradise fire broke out. And so my hometown is only an hour away from Paradise. We got a lot of the smoke. It was the worst air quality in the world at one point. And I have asthma, so for my health, my family had sent me back to New York City early, but by that point I was really upset and had made the connection that climate change was fueling California’s wildfires. So, I started paying attention to big events like [the UN climate conference] COP24, and I was expecting world leaders to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50%, and when they did not reduce, when they did not come to an agreement, I saw Greta Thunberg speak and saw her call to action and saw I should take that up, that I should strike at the United Nations headquarters, and striking is the best way to put pressure on world leaders to take climate action
Justine: I completely agree. So let’s take a step back and unpack some things here because you’ve delved into a lot of issues that probably a lot of our audience is not fully aware of, but essentially, last year an international body of scientists, the IPCC, came together to issue a special report on the state of the climate. It found that to avoid the most devastating impacts of climate change we need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. Which means we need to cut our output by half, we need to cut our trajectory in half in the next eleven years.
So this is where you’re getting your figures right, this is where you are getting your demands out of, it’s truly based in the science.
Alexandria: Yeah, you have to listen to the science and the facts because climate change isn’t an opinion.
Justine: Amen! It’s interesting that you talk about COP 24, this is a UN conference that happens every year, and this is twenty years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement. And this is a historic agreement, every country in the world has committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change. But you’re exactly right, we haven’t seen the kind of ambition or level of commitment it is going to take to reach those targets, to meet those scientific mandates as issued by scientists in the 1.5 degree report. Why did you pick the UN? What is it about the UN headquarters or calling out heads of state that is so integral to driving home your message?
Alexandria: I chose the United Nations Headquarters because it’s where the whole world comes together. It’s where world leaders come to make big decisions, and climate change is going to a global issue and we need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.
Justine: So, you’re thirteen, you’re making us all look very bad, and you’re making-you’re going to make us look even worse when I tell you that Alexandria recently launched her own nonprofit. She’s the founder and executive director of a nonprofit called Earth Uprising. It just recently launched, but tell us what you can about it; what are your plans for the future? How can people get involved?
Alexandria: Earth Uprising’s main goal is to educate young people on climate change, to mobilize them to take direct actions, and maybe striking or other types of direct actions, because I found when students are educated and when they know what they’re fighting for, it’s easier to mobilize young people
Justine: One hundred percent, it’s all about education, it’s about informing action and then inspiring people to take action. Alexandria, thank you so much, we so appreciate everything you do, we are here to support.