For youth concerned with climate change, it’s easy to see cause for concern.
“If people still believe this is a hoax, I’m like, ‘Come on — it’s April and it snowed yesterday, today it’s stormy, tomorrow it should be like 78,'” says Tamaya Travis, senior at East Madison High School. “Yeah, we live in the Midwest, and we have very unpredictable weather, but it’s everywhere — snowing in places where it never snows or doesn’t usually snow, this is getting ridiculous.”
East High School students had planned an outdoor protest with signs and speeches, but had to move inside due to heavy rain. The school’s jazz band played, Tamaya recited poetry, and speakers emphasized the need for action and attention around the climate crisis.
“This is one of the topics we bring up the most because everyone is very concerned,” Tamaya said. “We were like, ‘Earth is dying, all of you.’ We don’t want our Earth to die because, of course, we don’t really like it here, but we do want it to remain sustainable and functional, rather than a dwindling Earth..”
Youth around the world — and around Wisconsin — have played a major role in the environmental movement. Dozens of children around the world have challenged their citizenship governments to demand action to curb carbon emissions. In 2019, students dropped out of their schools in a global climate strike.
They are also involved on a smaller scale.
Students at Milwaukee Public Schools involved in the United Nations World Fair focus specifically on the sustainability goals of international organizations, learn about what actions can be taken to combat global warming and propose solutions.
In Oconomowoc, a group of high school students have helped document the process of making homes more environmentally friendly in the hope of encouraging more Wisconsin residents to reduce their emissions. The youth organization Sunrise Movement Fox Valley has protested the Line 5 pipeline and rallies the right to clean water in the Appleton area.
Benjamin Kennedy, an East Middle School student, said he was interested in environmental issues from a young age.
“This is one of the most existentially threatening things for everyone, especially for my generation and the generation after me,” he said. “It felt like something I had to be involved in.”
As part of their protest event, students wrote postcards to Wisconsin politician, President Joe Biden, and U.S. Senator Joe Manchin, West Virginia-D, urging them to take tougher action to curb the United States’ carbon emissions and invest in green infrastructure.
“(Climate change) is big news, so we won the publicity war, but what we didn’t win were politicians or big companies, so the biggest thing I think we need to work on is getting actual change, not just a charade from big business and government.” said Benjamin. “There must be a system change.”
Benjamin also said climate was one of the two biggest topics of discussion at East High, after racism, but it wasn’t always a hopeful conversation.
“There’s a bit of optimism,” he said. “We are teenagers, so it’s mostly cynicism.”