Want the Youth Vote? Prioritize Climate Change
By Jacob Wallace
This story is published as part of StudentNation's "Vision 2020: Election Stories From the Next Generation" reports from young journalists that center the concerns of diverse young voters. In this project, working with Dr. Sherri Williams, we recruited young journalists from different backgrounds to develop story ideas and reporting about their peers' concerns ahead of the most important election of our lives. We'll continue publishing two stories each week over the course of September.
In the speech she gave at the People's Climate March in Washington in 2017, Jansikwe Medina-Tayac, then 15, told a crowd of thousands, "This [climate change] is not just an environmental issue. This is a race issue, this is an immigration issue, this is a feminist issue."
The experience was a formative moment for Medina-Tayac, who devoted much of her free time to climate justice advocacy. "I remember waking up the next morning and my mom was like, 'Jansi, your video got like 500,000 views,'" Medina-Tayac, who lives in Silver Spring, Md., said. "At that age you're not used to being listened to by people."
Now 18, she cofounded the Washington chapter of Zero Hour, a woman-of-color-led climate justice organization with fellow student activist Khadija Khokhar in February. "To me, the people who are fighting against climate change and who are most affected are people of color," Medina-Tayac said. "And yet we don't see them reflected often." This is what she hopes Zero Hour will do.
Medina-Tayac, a member of the Piscataway Nation, a Native American tribe historically based around the Chesapeake Bay, and Khokhar, a Muslim and a first-generation immigrant, both felt that other climate movements they participated in were whitewashed. After meeting at one of Jane Fonda's Fire Drill Friday rallies in the fall, they kept in touch, and by the new year, they decided they wanted to be a part of a movement that incorporated inclusive policies and more people of color in leadership. "I honestly feel like there aren't enough of those spaces," Medina-Tayac said. "I'm really just making sure to reach out to as many communities as I can and really creating a space where people feel safe to share about their experiences. Just a space where people can learn and share and be equal partners."
Young voters are intimately aware that they will be forced to bear the full effects of climate change, and this is especially true for frontline communities in areas with higher pollution or fewer green spaces or on coastlines being eaten away by rising oceans. Zero Hour's platform reflects that duality: The organization calls for a "Just Transition" away from fossil fuels by 2040 like many other climate advocacy groups, but it also counts defending the treaty rights of Native Americans, for example, as a core part of its mission "because treaty rights are the only truly rigorous laws already in place that protect the land, the water, the wildlife, and the people."
Far beyond the presidential election, young activists from organizations like Zero Hour, Sunrise Movement, and beyond are demanding that all political candidates in the 2020 election begin to make mitigating global warming a key policy issue, and not just a talking point. During this polarized election year, these activists are finding ways to create climate policy at every level of government. "The goal is to get mass mobilization, to get everybody out in the streets," Khokhar said. "The entire climate movement is already rolling."
Millennials and Generation Z are the only generations in the United States where a majority of survey respondents say Earth is getting warmer due to human activity, according to a 2019 survey by Pew Research Center. Among 1,000 voters aged 18–29, one survey found that as many as 4 in 5 believe "global warming is a major threat to human life on earth as we know it."
Though the majority of Generation Z is still too young to vote, Generation Z and millennial voters already make up nearly 40 percent of the electorate, according to Carolyn DeWitt, president and executive director of Rock the Vote. With that level of power comes expectations about their clout as a voting bloc.
Although Medina-Tayac is now voting age, she is remaining focused on educating young people about policies like the Green New Deal rather than the presidential election. "I think the Green New Deal is really, really important and has sparked a lot of really interesting ideas in the movement," Medina-Tayac said. "[The climate justice movement] needs to be people-powered and there has to be policy-making."
During the Democratic primary, Khokhar was a strong supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders and valued his support for the Green New Deal. But now, with the primaries over and the pandemic ravaging the nation, she's accepted a position as the Detroit fellow for Zero Hour's Vote for Our Future campaign. In the role, which was created as part of a campaign to boost youth voter turnout, Khokhar is partnering with community organizations near her home in southeast Michigan, where she returned when quarantining began.
"What we're trying to do is get out young voters, because the youth voter turnout is a lot lower than it should be," Khokhar said. "It should be a lot higher, and the people that young people who aren't voting should hear that message from are [other] young people."
Some young activists compare today's climate activism to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, arguing that both are youth-led movements focused on systemic change. And like in the civil rights era, the current wave of activism has driven engagement at the polls. In modern times, the more young people participated in activist work ranging from signing an online petition to attending a demonstration, the more likely they were to vote in the 2018 midterm elections, according to research conducted at Tufts University's Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement.
In fact, much like the civil rights movement, the modern environmental justice movement began in the South. In the 1980s, a young sociologist named Robert Bullard was asked by his wife, attorney Linda McKeever Bullard, to conduct research for a lawsuit against the local waste management company. Bullard studied the location of toxic waste sites in Houston and discovered that for decades, these sites had been systematically placed in neighborhoods that were predominantly Black or brown.
Bullard waited years to get recognition from mainstream civil rights organizations, but he places his work in a long line of activism around dignity for black workers in the United States. Bullard notes that the final event that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. attended before his assassination was a sanitation workers' strike in Memphis, where Black workers were forced to move the city's garbage for low pay in inhumane conditions. "The environment piece was not something that was on the radar [of civil rights organizations,]" Bullard said. "The issue died with him."
But Bullard continued to press his case with Black civil rights groups and white environmental groups, undeterred. By 1990, Bullard had conducted enough research with academics and activists around the country to write what would become his first book, Dumping in Dixie. "It took two decades for us to get the two groups to converge in a way that people saw this as something that should be baked into their work," Bullard said.
Indeed, young activists have become increasingly more focused and sophisticated in how they push for action on issues like climate change, said Katie Kirchner, national director of the Roosevelt Network. A former campus organizer herself, Kirchner coordinates a program that "trains, equips, and develops progressive policymakers" at the local level. Kirchner sees that local work as complementary to activism taking place at the national level to create federal climate policy. "The organizing that Gen Z has been doing in general has been phenomenal," Kirchner said. "We have to have a movement that's powerful enough to hold politicians accountable across the board at every level, really."
In their inaugural meeting at a Washington, D.C., hotel on February 23, Medina-Tayac and Khokhar walked attendees through a PowerPoint presentation of how they believed climate change and sustainability were intersectional issues.
"We believe that people on the frontlines should lead the movement," Khokhar, 19, told the attendees. "Especially in the climate movement, we've seen in a lot of organizations, it's a lot of privileged white people, to be completely candid, who are leading this movement who haven't really faced the effects of the climate crisis or are just now starting to. So we really value giving the voice back to the people who have been fighting this fight for so much longer."
The organizers walked attendees through slides that helped introduce some of the young attendees to complex issues like colonialism, racism, and the prison-industrial complex. By the end of the discussion, the gathered crowd was discussing future plans for an Earth Day strike and the importance of scheduling events to be inclusive to those fasting for Ramadan and welcoming to long-time residents of Washington, D.C.
One of the young activists in attendance that day was Iris Zhan. A high school student in Clarksville, Md., Zhan is just 16. Last year, Zhan wanted to organize a #FridaysForFuture walkout at her high school in solidarity with the movement begun by Greta Thunberg, the internationally renowned student climate activist from Sweden. But Zhan realized that in order to get students to come to her rally she'd have to ensure they wouldn't be penalized by the school for attending.
"We're like, 'How are we going to get people to come out?'" Zhan said. "The only way is to get an excused absence for that day."
Zhan circulated a petition that eventually received hundreds of signatures, enough to convince the school to make the walkout an excused absence. As a bonus, the petition also increased awareness about the work she was doing with Sunrise Movement, another youth environmental justice group.
"[After that,] people kind of knew who I was, like I'm the climate person," Zhan said. "There's real stuff you can do besides a walkout, and people were able to see that."
Since the walkout, Zhan has gathered a group of friends she considers her "strike circle" to attend local meetings for organizations like Zero Hour and attended a climate strike at the Howard County government building in December, where she spoke with local politicians about the movement.
Zhan said that although she considers herself and her peers to be studious, they also view it as equally important to take time to advocate for policies that matter to them, regardless of whether they're able to vote. Walkouts, for instance, were once considered radical, Zhan said, but she believes they're almost a new normal for Generation Z.
"I think when you plant the activist mindset at a young age, it sticks with you," Zhan said. "Once you care about it you can't un-care about it, it kind of ingrains itself into your personality, and change[s] the way you act."
This story originally appeared in The Nation and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
- Youth Activists Urge Presidential Candidates to Address Climate ... ›
- Young Republican Climate Activists Split Over November's Election ... ›
- Activists Launch Youth 'Power Vote' Campaign to Turn Out Climate ... ›
- Climate Campaigners Want Public Banks to Fund Green Transition - EcoWatch ›
The excess carbon dioxide emitted by human activity since the start of the industrial revolution has already raised the Earth's temperature by more than one degree Celsius, increased the risk of extreme hurricanes and wildfires and killed off more than half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef. But geologic history shows that the impacts of greenhouse gases could be much worse.
- Earth Is Hurtling Towards a Catastrophe Worse Than the Dinosaur ... ›
- Are We Doomed If We Don't Curb Carbon Emissions by 2030 ... ›
- Humans Release 40 to 100x More CO2 Than Volcanoes, Major ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Teri Schultz
Europe is in a panic over the second wave of COVID-19, with infection rates sky-rocketing and GDP plummeting. Belgium has just announced it will no longer test asymptomatic people, even if they've been in contact with someone who has the disease, because the backlog in processing is overwhelming. Other European countries are also struggling to keep up testing and tracing.
Meanwhile in a small cabin in Helsinki airport, for his preferred payment of a morsel of cat food, rescue dog Kossi needs just a few seconds to tell whether someone has coronavirus.
<div id="bfda0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c60b1a0dedbedbe5e0ce44284aff852f"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1308390775328251906" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Covid-19 dogs started their work today at the Helsinki Airport at arrival hall 2B. Dogs have been trained to detect… https://t.co/nw4mrw6eJM</div> — Helsinki Airport (@Helsinki Airport)<a href="https://twitter.com/HelsinkiAirport/statuses/1308390775328251906">1600779644.0</a></blockquote></div><p>If it were left to Kossi and his pals, crowds of potential virus carriers could be cleared in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost with none of the physical discomfort that accompanies the current nasal swab test based on the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method.</p>
No Human Nose Needed<p>A dog can sniff a cloth wiped on a wrist or neck and immediately identify if it comes from someone who has contracted the virus as much as five days before any symptoms appear which would lead a person to go into isolation. "A dog could easily save so so, so many lives," University of Helsinki veterinary researcher Anna Hielm-Bjorkman told DW, who says their testing has shown an accuracy level of nearly 100%.</p><p>It was originally her idea to see whether Kossi, a talented disease-detection dog, could redirect his skills in sniffing out mold, bedbugs and cancer to detecting the new virus just as it started to spread in Europe. "It took him seven minutes to figure out 'okay, this is what you want me to look out for," Hielm-Bjorkman said. "So that totally blew our minds."</p><p>Susanna Paavilainen, the executive director of the Wise Nose scent-detection foundation and the woman who saved Kossi from euthanasia in a Spanish shelter eight years ago, immediately started retraining her dogs to find the coronavirus.</p><p>Miina, who used to track a young girl's blood sugar levels by scent, quickly came on board, along with two others already working in disease detection. In all, they hope to train 15 dogs in the first phase.</p><p>Hielm-Bjorkman said once they discovered the new capabilities, while the normal academic procedure would be to test, publish and get peer-reviewed, their first instinct was to get the dogs into service. "[Researchers] who are actually publishing," she noted wryly, "are not at the airports."</p>
Wags, Not Wages<p>But for that, they needed permission and ideally, some funding. Vantaa Deputy Mayor Timo Aronkyto, who is also responsible for airport security, saw the benefit straight away. "It took me two minutes," he told DW.</p><p>However, his funding options were limited to about $390,000 total for the four-month pilot project aiming to prove that results from the dog tests are at least as accurate as the PCR test. Anyone who tests positive at the voluntary canine site is requested to go to the medical unit for confirmation.</p><p>The interest of Aronkyto, a trained physician, is rooted in both health and wealth. "Our testing at the airport costs more than 1 million [euros] (USD $1.2 million) a month at the moment," he said, explaining he expects that to go up to €3 million (USD. $3.5 million) per month in winter. "These dogs would be much cheaper," he pointed out.</p><p>He's optimistic support will grow as data from the current pilot project accumulates, explaining there is already work underway to change Finnish legislation so eventually sniffer dogs would have the same "authority" as customs dogs.</p><p>Aronkyto anticipates one animal performing both functions in the near future. He plans to continue this level of funding from his city budget into next year but that doesn't train new dogs nor expand the capacity beyond the four that split shifts currently at the airport, even as infection rates rise.</p>
Helsinki Hesitates<p>Notably, however, the Finnish government has not signaled it would like to pick up the program itself, despite a huge surge in publicity and, as Hielm-Bjorkman and Paavilainen emphasize, interest from other countries. Travelers have been eager to participate, waiting in line more than an hour at times.</p><p>Finnish ambassador in Ramallah, Palestine, Paivi Peltokoski, praised the experience after a recent trip but, apparently, her enthusiasm is not overly contagious.</p>
<div id="d9823" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="61d382f115fe66a44eb793d9ebee3d94"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1318564228450615299" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">I was tested negative by two #coronadogs upon arrival at the #Helsinki airport in #Finland. Later a medical test ve… https://t.co/cGlWQn8DJb</div> — Päivi Peltokoski (@Päivi Peltokoski)<a href="https://twitter.com/PaiviPeltokoski/statuses/1318564228450615299">1603205184.0</a></blockquote></div><p>"If the government would see this already as something that they would believe in," Hielm-Bjorkman said, she could envision training hundreds of dogs, stationing sniffers at concert halls or sports matches or elderly care homes. She adds there's a need for a "paradigm shift" for both medical professionals and the public.</p><p>Usually it's doctors telling patients if they're sick, she explained, and "here it's a dog handler."</p>
Little Political Will on German Project<p>This situation is not limited to Finland. In Germany researchers also <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/german-sniffer-dogs-show-promise-at-detecting-coronavirus/a-54300863" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">announced promising results</a> with canines <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/coronavirus-german-military-training-sniffer-dogs/a-54062180" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">detecting COVID-19</a>, but no dogs have been used anywhere so far. And then, says Professor Holger Volk of the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover, there has been insufficient political will or funding to move the project forward, something he called "very troubling" especially with a resurgent infection rate.</p><p>"When we started this whole project, we we did it because we wanted to help to stop the pandemic," Volk told DW. "It's really has been a very frustrating ride. I have had a lot of naysayers in the whole process. If I wasn't a very determined person, having done a lot of research, I would have probably stopped it."</p><p>He agrees with Hielm-Bjorkman's assessment that "it's just not in the perception of doctors that dogs are able to do this precise work." But he also echoes her faith in the vast potential of their discovery. "If you had a dog who could sniff every day quickly your cohort of workers, for example," he said, "think about the impact. You could continue having a workplace."</p><p>Speaking of workplaces, Susanna Paavilainen is starting to think if Finland doesn't want to unleash the dogs' potential at home, she and Kossi might accept one of the many requests from all over the world to provide training. "We can move because Kossi likes warm weather," she says, petting her star sniffer.</p>
An annual comprehensive report on air pollution showed that it was responsible for 6.67 million deaths worldwide, including the premature death of 500,000 babies, with the worst health outcomes occurring in the developing world, according to the State of Global Air, which was released Wednesday.
- U.S. Air Quality Decreased in Recent Years, Study Finds - EcoWatch ›
- Air Pollution Shortens Life Span by Three Years, Researchers Say ... ›
- Cleaner Air in Europe Has Resulted in 11,000 Fewer Deaths, New ... ›
- Half of U.S. Air Pollution Deaths Linked to Out-of-State Emissions ... ›
By Hannah Seo
If you've been considering throwing out that old couch, now might be a good time. Dust in buildings with older furniture is more likely to contain a suite of compounds that impact our health, according to new research.
- How Chemicals Like PFAS Can Increase Your Risk of Severe ... ›
- PFAS Chemicals Contaminate U.S. Food Supply, FDA Confirms ... ›
- This Strategy Protects Public Health From PFAS 'Forever Chemicals ... ›
Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, genetics, and a bunch of other things are known to be behind excessive weight gain. But, did you know that how much sleep you get each night can also determine how much weight you gain or lose?