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15-Year-Old Climate Activist + Robert Redford Address UN on Urgent Need to #ActOnClimate

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Fifteen-year-old indigenous climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez and actor and environmental advocate Robert Redford addressed the United Nations yesterday to encourage global action on climate change.

Fifteen-year-old indigenous climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez and actor and environmental advocate Robert Redford met yesterday after addressing the United Nations to encourage global action on climate change. Photo credit: Vanessa Black

Xiuhtezcatl is the youth director of a non profit organization Earth Guardians. He was raised in the Aztec tradition and has been an active campaigner since the age of six. Now 15, he was selected to speak at the Opening Ceremony from among 200 applicants through a process facilitated by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service.

Martinez turned heads at the UN meeting calling on delegates to “dream big.” Saying, "It’s time to look to the skies for the solutions we need, because the future of energy is not down a hole.”

With only five months remaining before the COP 21 UN Climate talks in Paris, Martinez was selected by UN President Sam Kutesa of Uganda to address the assembly as a representative of civil society.

The young activist asked the delegates to imagine what could be accomplished if fossil fuel and nuclear subsides were reinvested into renewable energy. The International Monetary Fund estimates global fossil fuel subsidies are close to $10 million every minute. “The solutions are here, and they are bringing with them millions of jobs and economic opportunity,” he said.

Xiutezcatl emphasized the power of a growing youth climate movement:

“Everywhere young people are rising up and taking action to solve the issues that will be left to our generation … Over 400,000 people marched in through the streets of New York City in the world’s greatest climate march. More than 220 institutions have divested from fossil fuels with the help of student-led movements and the number continues to grow. Youth are suing their state and federal governments across the United States, demanding action on climate change from our elected officials. We are flooding the streets and now we are flooding the courts to get the world to see there is a movement on the rise and we are at the forefront, fighting for the solutions we need.”

Despite the challenging circumstances Xiuhtezcatl urged optimism, calling on delegates to stand with youth leaders.

“In the light of a collapsing world, what better time to be alive than now, because our generation gets to change the course of history," he said. "Humans have created the greatest problem we face today, but the greater the challenge the higher we will rise to meet it. We need you to be a climate leader—not to stand up for us, but to stand with us."

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As his speech concluded, Xiuhtezcatl asked, “Who will rise with me now for mine and future generations to inherit a healthy just and sustainable planet?” Many of the delegates symbolically rose from their seats in support of Xiuhtezcatl.

Watch here:

Redford has been a prominent voice in the environmental movement for more than 40 years and is deeply involved in campaigns to protect air, land and water from pollution as a long-time trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Robert Redford refuses to leave the next generation a world beyond fixing—because he knows it’s not too late,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Global momentum is building to combat the gravest environmental threat of our time.”

During his speech, Redford said, “Unless we move quickly away from fossil fuels we are going to destroy the air we breathe, the water we drink and the health of our children, our grandchildren and future generations.”

UN President Sam Kutesa of Uganda shared his gratitude for Redford's work. “Robert Redford has long been giving voice to the underdog, to the people who are trying to do the right thing, and for the environment,” he said. “His presence at the High-Level Event helped us connect with people all around the world who also want to do the right thing on climate change.”

Watch Redford's speech here:

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."

While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.

On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."

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