By Zanagee Artis (Brown University ‘22), Founder & Deputy Director of Advocacy for Zero Hour.
“Intersectionality in climate justice means addressing patriarchy, institutionalized and environmental racism, risk for people with disabilities, and continued imperialism by the United States to maintain control and dependence on fossil fuels for corporate profit.”
Discussion about climate change by mainstream media outlets and elected officials has gained a lot of momentum in the United States (and abroad) due in large part to the work of youth climate justice activists in organizations like Zero Hour. When I founded Zero Hour in the summer of 2017 with Jamie Margolin, Madelaine Tew, and Nadia Nazar, we not only began the first truly youth-led climate justice movement in the United States, but also reimagined and recreated what climate justice organizing should look like.
From Zero Hour’s inception, we built an organization and a movement around the intersectionalities between systems of oppression that continue to cause climate change, including colonialism, racism, patriarchy, and capitalism, and have worked to uplift voices directly impacted by these systems and by the environmental degradation that they’ve caused.
Through our work, we have inspired young people all over the country and internationally in London, Berlin, Hamburg, Nairobi, Madrid, and many other cities around the globe. Our success in planning Zero Hour Youth Climate Marches globally in July of 2018, and successfully hosting This is Zero Hour: the Youth Climate Summit in Miami, Florida, which brought together leaders in the movement including Bill Mckibben, founder of 350.org, Greta Thunberg, founder of Fridays for Future, and Nathan and Alethea Phillips, indigenous activists instrumental in the Standing Rock movement, attests to the power of youth climate justice organizing.
Despite this success, one major issue within the climate justice movement persists: intergenerational support for youth organizing is limited to adults and elderly people who have been a part of this movement for their whole lives. Youth organizing can only achieve so much without the active support of older generations who failed to stop this crisis during their youth because despite the organizing power of groups like Zero Hour, youth fueled movements that are doing truly transformative grassroots work with focuses on restorative justice are limited by resources, the inability to vote for many organizers, and judgement based on our age.
Save a few adult mentors, every single Zero Hour organizer is also a full-time student. In my time away from conference calls with our teams, I am in class, writing papers in the library, and studying for exams for an education that I hope to utilize for the rest of my life. However, despite being engaged with groups on campus and having a rigorous course load at Brown University I am fighting the fossil fuel industry and for climate justice because right now my future is not guaranteed, and there is no certainty that I will be able to utilize the degree I receive for as long as older generations have been able to because of the fossil fuel and meat and dairy industries.
Despite the precarity of the future because of climate change, universities as institutions continue to profit off of investment in the fossil fuel industry, despite taking local sustainability action. Now is not the time for institutions of higher education to maintain the status quo because investments in the fossil fuel industry are reliably profitable, now is the time to invest in sustainable energy because business as usual means that the students of today will live in a very different world than our parents or grandparents ever will.
A major differentiation between Zero Hour and other groups organizing around the climate is that we are not only fighting for our futures, but also for those being impacted by climate change and environmental racism right now. A glaringly unjust misconception pedaled by mainstream media and climate organizations alike is this idea that climate change is an issue for the future; meanwhile, people all over the United States and around the world have already felt the impacts of intensifying and more frequent natural disasters, desertification and drought, harsher winters and food shortages. Mainstream environmental groups in the US must act with more solidarity with these frontline groups and with climate justice groups like Zero Hour if a just transition to sustainable energy and agriculture can occur.
Additionally, collaboration among other activist groups, like the Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, and anti-war activists to name a few, must become more prevalent. Intersectionality in climate justice means addressing patriarchy, institutionalized and environmental racism, risk for people with disabilities, and continued imperialism by the United States to maintain control and dependence on fossil fuels for corporate profit.
These issues are far too complex and intersectional for the climate movement not to actively engage with a more diverse set of voices who are already addressing issues related to these topics in their communities, even if not through an environmental activist lense. We need perspectives from other organizing groups, and we need them to put more of their efforts towards fighting climate change with us because this is the single most intersectional issue facing the world today, and it is the greatest global threat to humanity that the world has ever witnessed. We know that This is Zero Hour to act on the climate crisis, and we can only win this fight together.
This article was published in The Beam #9 . Subscribe now for more on the topic.
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