Climate Action

“We can’t wait for my generation to grow up.” A message from a climate activist

Gudrun Campbell is a seventh-grade climate activist and rally organizer from Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Last March, as I walked with my parents to the first climate strike I organized in Charlottesville, we wondered how many people would show up. If 30 people came, we decided it would be a success.

It was hard organizing a strike. As a sixth grader, I had trouble getting high school students to write back when I emailed. The school counselor called me in when word got around that I was telling classmates to skip school. I emailed reporters but no one did a story before the event. I really had no idea what to expect.

I’d been to protests before — big ones like the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C., and small ones like an anti-pipeline protest outside the local Dominion Energy office. But I’d never organized one.

And then I saw the video of climate activist Greta Thunberg speaking at Davos. Her speech made it clear: Nobody was doing enough. I wasn’t doing enough. I felt helpless, something lots of kids feel. There is so much wrong with the world, and even individual choices — going vegan, not flying, installing solar panels — aren’t choices kids have much control over.

Gudrun Campbell of Charlottesville, Virginia, holds her climate strike sign. Photo credit: Brian Campbell.

But Greta gave me direction. Organizing a local School Strike for Climate, even in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, was something I could actually do. And when 200 people came to that March 2019 strike — kindergarteners and college students, reporters from newspapers, radio and television — I felt like even kids could have power.

Teaching only individual lifestyle choices as climate solutions ignores the urgent need for large-scale legislative change. So, for my second climate strike, I invited House of Delegates candidate Sally Hudson and Charlottesville City Council candidates Sena Magill and Michael Payne to speak. I wanted the politicians to explain their plan to fight climate change and let them know that the youth will hold them accountable.

But I am proudest of our strike on September 20, 2019, when more than 800 youth and allies gathered under the sweltering sun to demand that Dominion Energy halt construction of a compressor station for an unnecessary new pipeline.

Greta gave me direction. Organizing a local School Strike for Climate, even in my hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia, was something I could actually do.

Gudrun Campbell, youth climate activist

They planned to build the compressor station in Union Hill, a town about an hour away from Charlottesville. At a town hall, Union Hill locals expressed their desire to breathe clean air. The compressor would create toxic particles so small they could penetrate windows and produce noise akin to a plane taking off all day and night.

And now, after years of pushback, it looks like Dominion’s compressor station and pipeline may not be built.

It can be hard, especially when you don’t live in a big city, to feel like your political actions mean anything. But organizing school climate strikes has made me feel like a part of something bigger.

I’ve gone to Washington, D.C., to march next to Greta and to New York City (don’t worry, I took the train) to strike outside the United Nations with Alexandria Villaseñor. I’ve gone to Richmond to lobby my state government.

In that first video of Greta I saw, she expressed a frustration with being a youth climate activist that I’ve felt, too. Adults often tell me things like, “Your generation really gives me hope,” and “You really are going to stop climate change.” But it shouldn’t be my job to give you hope.

We need climate action now. We can’t wait for my generation to grow up. My generation has to live with this constant fear that our futures are unknown. Looking to the kids for hope is, frankly, selfish.

Like most Americans, I’m facing a lot of uncertainty right now. I don’t know what my activism will look like this year, as the coronavirus pandemic forced me to cancel my Earth Day event . We’ll continue mobilizing online, but this is a new world for environmental activists —there’s no blueprint yet.

Still, I’m grateful for a community of people willing to support and uplift each other. I hope that when we come out of this, things will not return to normal. Normal wasn’t working — it was leading us to irreversible climate change. We need big changes, and I believe we can bring these changes in 2020.