March on Washington: The teen who put climate change front and centerFeatured

The happenings of the world around us, regardless of our political affiliations and personal opinions, can give us a bleak outlook. The solution that seems to be tossed around often is to simply stop consuming the news, like this man who ignored all news channels for a year following the 2016 presidential election and claimed many benefits from his self imposed solitude. This does make sense, considering a 2018 Time article that reported, “More than half of Americans say the news causes them stress, and many report feeling anxiety, fatigue or sleep loss as a result…” Still, there is an argument to be made that the bliss of ignorance is the easy way out and that some of the most influential people in history have used upsetting news to motivate themselves. They set out to effect change rather than simply expecting it to happen. I had the chance to interview Jamie Margolin, teen climate change activist and founder of Zero Hour, and found that she is, without a doubt, a part of this small-but-powerful group of influencers.Ticking Time BombsTalking about how she became involved with climate change activism and why she was interested in the first place, Jamie’s response was, “So that's always an interesting question to me because climate change isn't something I'm interested in. I would prefer not to think about it. It's kind of like when there's a ticking time bomb, you see the ticking time bomb about to go off and you're not like, ‘Oh wow, I'm really passionate about ticking time bombs. That's really cool. I enjoy reading and thinking and worrying about ticking time bombs.’"My initial reaction was to laugh, of course, because of how true her witty response was. The fact of the matter, however, is that the wording of this very typical question reveals the lack of urgency in the way we (even those of us who are very concerned about the topic) discuss climate change. This makes Jamie’s journey as a climate change activist at the young age of 17 all the more awe inspiring. “It wasn’t until after the 2016 election...when I was 14, I just took the dive and started to do climate justice organizing and I never looked back,” she said.The aftermath of Hurricane Maria and the other major disasters of 2017 were a major inflection point for Jamie. The media’s lack of urgency concerning the topic followed by the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords were the last straws and Jamie took the social media to find support. She started recruiting into 2018 and worked with fellow students to build the movement called Zero Hour, starting with a march of young people demanding action for climate change. Their mission is, “to address the root causes of the climate crisis, the root systems of oppression that led us here and mobilize around urgent action on climate now, because this is zero hour.” Social media was a particularly important piece of the puzzle. “Technology is the sole reason why Zero Hour and the current scale of the youth climate movement is able to exist,” Jamie said. They were able to grow the movement globally using social media, group chats, email threads, and video calls. The group rallied together and marched on Washington on July 21st, 2018. They have organized in 25 cities around the world ever since and are working on more as of the writing of this article. The Racist Irony of Climate ChangeWhen we think about why climate change is important, the typical response is about the importance of keeping the climate healthy for future generations. Similar to putting aside news, this is something that many people are able to put aside as problems that are not currently applicable or important. However, the issue is not just about the effect of climate change on the planet. It’s also about the way the topic is entwined with other issues facing societies all over the world. From racism to gun violence to overpopulation, all these issues have a stake in the outcome of today’s climate change activism. In a turn of irony, for example, the people who will suffer the impacts of climate change will be people in poor nations whose governments have limited resources for defense. These will generally be people of color and poverty living with the effects of the actions of powerful white people. Thus, the rich and white will become more powerful and the poor and brown will become weaker, fueling the socioeconomic stereotypes of racism in the future.Another example concerns the issue of gun control, which is more of a parallel issue to climate change rather than as a direct cause-and-effect relationship. When organizations like the NRA have such an enormous amount of control of the actions of the federal government, it becomes increasingly difficult to pass laws and make changes to reduce gun violence in the United States. Less spoken about is the fact that allowing such organizations this much power leaves the door open for others to do the same with issues like climate change, for which fossil fuel companies act as the blockade for lawmaking. “See everything through the lens of climate change,” said Jamie. Teenagers Fighting the Adults’ FightAs a teenager fighting the adults’ fight, Jamie talked a bit about what teenagers can do more of and what adults should be doing to help make climate change a front-and-center issue not only politically, but also culturally.Teenagers have a lot more power than many of us realize. Jamie suggested that teenagers who live in a family that can vote have the ability to influence their family members who are of age and eligible to head to the polls. Particularly for children of immigrants, they have an advantage when it comes to knowing about language and culture and can help their parents make informed political decisions. Even outside of their own families, teens can talk to voters and join local community organizations as well as larger ones, such as Zero Hour, to raise awareness of certain issues to effect change. “[Teenagers] do have the power to shift the culture and the culture has to shift before the laws can shift. That's just how change has always happened historically,” said Jamie.The advice for adults actually seems a bit more obvious. Jamie recommended that adults learn to bring minorities to the discussion table. The underrepresented tend to be affected the most by the decisions made by the powerful. Thinking statistically, they simply should have a louder voice at the table if adult leaders hope to come up with genuine solutions to major problems like climate change. Additionally, business leaders should find metrics of success outside of revenue - looking for a certain amount of diversity, for example, along with a certain “number of minority seats at the table” and reallocation of a set amount of resources to remedy issues with voice equality. Money creates heavy bias in the boardroom, and while this can positively affect a company’s fiscal responsibility, it can act as a blockade against its social responsibility.Possibly the most important thing that adults can do, however, is hold leaders and officials accountable. Taking to the streets in peaceful protest, calling state officials, and using votes to send a message are all things that any American adult is capable of doing to force people in power to think hard about issues like climate change.Sticking our heads in the sand is never the solution to any problem, so while the news can be disturbing and difficult, it is important to also make sure that each of us is doing our part in maintaining the integrity of a democratic republic. Jamie Margolin and her peers are doing more than their part with Zero Hour and some impressive activism, particularly considering their age. Adults have the ability to do even more and should do so with a determination. After all, the people affect cultural change, and cultural change is the basis for progression in the government.
Thank you for putting together this article and introducing us to Zero Hour. You make so many good points and I particularly like your discussion on the power of teenagers. Social media especially is able to call attention to these critical topics and create interest around them.
That question of how "they became interested in it" was spot on. It's not an interesting subject, it is an EMERGENCY. Her response is so powerful and shows us the lack of urgency we still have by that simple wording.. wow. It is a terrifying subject, thank you for bringing awareness to what teenagers have influence over.
Thank you so much for sharing this! It really is quite amazing how mainstream “adult” media places zero emphasis on this idea of the climate crisis being a “ticking time bomb.” How did we get to this place of such apathy?