18-year-old climate activist shares how she finds courage and resilience

18-year-old climate activist shares how she finds courage and resilience

Natalie Sweet September 20, 2019 Just before meeting the Core Strike Planning Team for the Global Climate Strike.

Viviane Douce

Almost half of young people (45%) say that their feelings about climate change have a negative impact on their daily life. More than three in four young people (77%) say the future of climate change is bleak.

According to a survey of 10,000 young people in 10 countries released this month by academics from Stanford, Oxford and the University of Bath, among others.

CNBC spoke to Natalie Sweet, an 18-year-old climate organizer in August, about her experience living with and moving forward with climate anxiety. As a freshman at Sweet High School, she got involved with Zero Hour, an organization of young climate activists, and rose through the ranks to become director of communications. She is leaving this role to focus on her freshman year of college at Wesleyan, but will still be a member of the Zero Hour Communication Team.

The following are excerpts from Sweet’s comments in a telephone interview with CNBC. They have been edited for brevity and clarity.

“We didn’t launch Shell and Exxon”

There is a distinct sense of urgency among young people as we hear things like “Miami will probably be underwater in the next century”, “These heat waves and storms will happen more often.” Seniors know it’s not much of a problem for their generation and it’s really infuriating for me, because I think it’s a mess for them to clean up.

We were not the ones who started Shell and Exxon. She was not of our generation. And now we are sitting in this great mess that has come from rapid-fire anthropogenic climate change since the 1950s.

Often times, even though young people fighting climate change are applauded, it’s always, “Wow, I’m so proud of you kids. You are all fine. So come help us. Come join us.

I wish the adults who care about climate change and the young people who care about climate change would almost come together and use the collective power of a multigenerational movement to influence more adults, to impress more people in those old positions of direction, that climate change is real and deserves their attention now. It’s really inspiring to see older people in the climate movement working with us and really pushing our goals forward.

We’re going to keep trying to convince the adults, but I can’t focus and stick to it for too long, because – it’s going to sound a little hard – we don’t have time.

Burnout is real: is it all in vain?

I joined zero hours around May in 2018, when I was in first year in high school.

Before that, I hadn’t really heard the climate justice principles discussed recently. A lot of times when people talked about climate change it was about protecting forests, but Zero Hour was the first time I saw a group teaching and prioritizing the human rights issue of climate change.

My parents were always concerned about the environment, but I think they didn’t know as much as I did about the issue of climate justice, or the extent of climate change and all that is involved.

Natalie Sweet, Youth Climate Organizer

Photo courtesy of Ava Olson

I joined the national communication team in January 2019 during my second year.

I was doing all kinds of great national presence, social media, like working on various online campaigns, sending out press releases, talking to reporters. I actually started to get involved and eventually became the communications director – the team director – after a former director resigned. It was in December 2019. Since then, I have only worked as a communications director and lead both the press and social media teams. I manage a team of around 14 people.

In my prime, I was spending eight to 12 hours a week working zero hours, which included calls. I was really, really busy.

When you push for different policies and then see that no one will adopt them, or feel like you are fighting an uphill battle, I get very jealous, very frustrating. I think it makes me feel very, very emotionally drained.

It is really worrying. Because not only do I have all this work that I haven’t done, but we’re just fighting what looks like a time bomb. It’s zero hour to save our planet.

We don’t have time anymore. Sometimes I feel so tired of all the work I have done and I can’t really see the fruits of my labor, where it’s like, “Okay, okay, was that in vain? Because if politicians don’t listen to us, how can we keep our word?

How to stay busy: find your employees, take a break

The community of people I have met through the event has been wonderful and delightful.

In December 2019, we did a retreat in Washington, DC, and we all got together and got to share our goals for the organization, together we wrote a timeline, which was for 2020 – and which was unnecessary then because covid has arrived. But still, this feeling of being together and of being a community and knowing that there are people who deeply share love, organize themselves and care deeply about the planet and people is what me. really keep going.

If this was one of those one-off fights like no one is with you and you just go upstairs, I think it would be really hard for any of the organizers to feel like you ‘they continued. Having people around you who push and inspire you, but at the same time share these worries and fears and anxieties like you are really, really motivating. I really bonded with people like that in Zero Hour.

In addition, it is very intentional to ensure that you take a truly restful break.

Zero Hour demands that each of our directors take a certain week off, just because we understand that we are young and that much of this fight for climate justice can be really, really exhausting at times. Can do. And so it is very important to understand that you have to take a relaxing break at some point.

Many of my closest friends are climate planners, people I have met through our shared love for this planet, the people on it, and our shared desire to fight for justice in all its forms.

Being surrounded by a caring community that understands burnout in a way that you do too is really important. I think a lot of other directors and my friends in the climate movement are totally like, “Yeah, you gotta take a break now.” I think hearing this is really, really confirming.

my fight is for a livable future

Zero Hour truly prioritizes the right to a liveable future. And this is something that I put in myself too. Above all, everyone has the right to a habitable planet, a habitable future, safe neighborhoods, safe communities, and I really want to do whatever I can to make sure that happens.

Environmental law is something that particularly interested me. In school, I took a course called Global Environmental History, which really exposed me to the history of how humans interacted with the Earth.

I continue to progress with media and shape the narrative because I think one of the most rewarding things I have learned from communication is the importance of storytelling and climate for the organizers. Helping to grow is telling stories and making different voices heard.

I feel deeply inspired by the fact that everyone should have the right to a liveable future. I guess as I get older I will continue to fight for this.

Also in this series:

Climate change is radicalizing young people – here’s what it means and how to tackle desperation

Grief and concern over climate change prompted the 30-year-old to write a letter to her unborn child

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