They only have their learner’s permits, but they’re ready to drive the global agenda on climate action | Earth Day Network

By Justine Sullivan and Brandon Pytel

“I’m going to talk about climate change. But before I do, we need to unpack some of the root causes of climate change. I’m talking about colonialism, patriarchy and capitalism.”

Rev. Yearwood speaks at conference

Hip Hop Caucus founder Rev. Jeremiah Yearwood discusses racial inequality and climate change at the summit. | Photo credit: Justine Sullivan/Earth Day Network

The opening from This Is Zero Hour co-founder Jamie Margolin

was a fitting welcome to a climate summit unlike any other, one that barely discussed the environment at all. Instead, the Zero Hour Youth Climate Summit — organized, executed and led by teenage climate activists from the Zero Hour movement — focused on issues few conferences discuss: the connections among climate change, civil rights, social justice, exploitation and power.

More than 400 attendees from across the U.S. and Puerto Rico joined the summit to hear speakers like environmental writer and 350.org founder Bill McKibben, youth climate activist Greta Thunberg and indigenous rights activist Nathan Phillips and his daughter Alethea Phillips, as well as speakers from organizations such as Sunrise Movement, Schools for Climate Action, Earth Uprising and Extinction Rebellion.

Earth Day Network Food and Environment Campaign Manager Michelle Pawliger joined the summit to discuss the often-ignored connections between our food system, the environment and social justice, discussing EDN’s food justice campaign, Foodprints for the Future. Pawliger urged the young activists to join Margolin, a Foodprints ambassador, and take a united approach to redefine our broken food system.

“We can create networks, coalitions, and together we can organize to create more access to low impact, healthy, accessible and affordable foods,” said Pawliger. “This is how we shift power. Together we demand it and we take it.”

Hip Hop Caucus founder Reverend Jeremiah Yearwood drove home the connections between racial inequality and climate change. The first Earth Day in 1970 was not just an environmental movement, he said, but a movement “of unifying, of breaking the silos, of getting to the roots, of understanding that you had civil rights, you had gay rights, you had [the] anti-war [movement], you had environmental

Denis Hayes via video speaks at conference

Denis Hayes, the principal national organizer of the first Earth Day, urges youth to mobilize around the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. | Photo credit: Justine Sullivan/Earth Day Network

justice and there was this effort to begin to bring it together.”

Denis Hayes, the principal national organizer of the first Earth Day and board chair emeritus of Earth

Day Network, joined remotely to urge youth to mobilize around the 50th anniversary of Earth Day on April 22, 2020.

“Your challenge now is to convert attention into consequences,” said Hayes via video address. “Climate change is not just about extreme weather — it’s about environmental justice and just transitions; it’s about inequality and greed; it’s about vulnerability and exploitation; and fundamentally, it’s about power.”

As the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day approaches, the time is now for a global outpouring of energy, enthusiasm and commitment to create change. Be part of the world’s largest environmental movement by joining Earth Day Network.