XR Youth is a climate organization that focuses on young individuals creating change in a manner that doesn't stress them out. It first started as Extinction Rebellion, which was an adult led group in the UK. In an interview with Eden Naureckas, one of the NYC branch’s action coordinators, she mentioned the key demands XR is focused on; climate justice, prioritizing BIPOC communities and sharing a vision of change. These demands are targeted at large private corporations, fossil fuels industries and the federal government. What makes XR special is the way they engage youth and set them on a path for change, not just for their generation but for future ones too.
Why should youth be involved?
Eden and I discussed the importance of young people being part of the climate movement since they will be the adults facing the effects of climate change. “If change doesn't happen
now, by the time we're of the age that we can make the policies, it will be too late”....“It's terrible that the youth have to be doing it honestly. I don't think it's fair that they have to solve the problems that adults have caused”. Youth involvement and their collective frontline efforts have helped to spotlight the climate movement. Organizations such as XR and Fridays for Future, and individuals like Greta Thunberg help people realize how important climate change is and inspire them to get engaged and make a difference.
Climate change has many negative effects on people and communities, such as increasing air pollution, asthma rates, droughts, and wildfires. Unfortunately, there are many individuals and lawmakers who don't see climate change as a major concern, it may be because they lack the education or downplay its impacts for their own benefit. As a result, change will only happen when enough individuals accept the impact and take initiative to act collectively. However, when lawmakers propose solutions, Eden added, “they are band-aid solutions over individual aspects of the climate crisis instead of the system wide radical change that is necessary...This ignores the fact that there is a shared factor which is the way that our capitalist society is structured, that is - the prioritization of profit over what's sustainable.”
As a climate movement activist, it is important to think on various levels (individual, local, national or global), because it is an issue that has such widespread impact. America has contributed a lot to climate change, and if we push our government to make changes, then other nations influenced by America would follow suit. Regardless of climate change’s
global nature, It is important to work to solve it on a local level, with peers and organizations. Though we can't solve climate change entirely, we can still help contribute to the movement with the resources available. “You can't wait until the entire climate crisis is solved to help people who need help right now so consider organizing locally like Extinction Rebellion does. This is something that many groups can and should be doing while also trying to fight for a national and global level of change”.
America's Impact on the Environment and its Legislation
As mentioned before, America doesn't do a good job with legislation that combats climate change, mitigates the damage from it, and or aids people who were impacted by it. For example, many relief programs after natural disasters don't help as much as they should and still leave communities unprepared for the next one. What America should do is to help limit the impact of natural disasters by divesting from fossil fuels and other contributors of CO2 going into the atmosphere. There has been legislation such as the Paris Agreement, which is a great start, however, when you look at the fine print, there isn't really a system in place to hold countries accountable for their promises of lowering emissions, etc. It is more about optics and the reputation of the countries who want to present themselves as eco friendly, when in reality they often ignore the negative effects of their behavior.“They need to make direct changes right now and not just tip their toe in the water by merely acknowledging that climate change is happening because that's the bare minimum and more is needed to be done”.
There have been states, such as New York, that have recently started plastic bag bans and
offered consumers reusable bags instead. Though fewer plastic bags are being thrown out, many people still have trouble getting used to the change because they have lived with plastic bags for such a long time, and forget to reuse their bags. As a result, many keep buying reusable bags which makes factories produce more and cause more pollution.Though these changes are made with good intentions, there are bigger culprits of climate change, such as commercial fishing equipment, which is one of the major contributing factors to pollution in the water, more so than plastic bags and straws. Companies should be responsible for making their products recyclable so that consumers don't have to stress about every little piece of product. In fact, most of what gets put into recycling bins by consumers doesn't end up getting recycled. In NYC, residents recycle only about 17% of their total waste. This problem is compounded by the fact that plastics have a lifespan so there’s a certain amount of time it can be recycled before it's thrown into landfills. The government’s funding of these recycling programs and their real impact need to be reevaluated. “It's not a real system but sort of an illusion. I think that the responsibility for recycling should lie with the manufacturers of products, not the people who buy them because they are just buying what was offered to then and what is necessary for their daily lives”. Instead we should target major corporations that ignore climate change for their capitalist agendas.
The Impact of Fast Fashion
Many companies, especially those in the fast fashion industry are the biggest contributors to the climate crisis. XR Youth talks about this a lot and they did their first in person action targeting Victoria's Secret to spotlight this very issue. The action involved putting mannequins, with creative designs on them, outside a Victoria Secret store and distributing flyers describing some of the harmful effects of that specific business on the climate. Fast fashion is clothing that is made at a rapid pace due to large demand, without consideration for quality. These products are not sustainable and are produced in horrible working conditions. XR Youth also promotes thrifting as a sustainable option, but understands why some may want to buy fast fashion due to their socioeconomic background or interest in
what’s trending. “it's not easy to be sustainable. Even within the climate movement lots of people have a hard time finding a happy medium between what they can afford, what matches their personal taste and what's environmentally ethical”. Many individuals have unwanted clothes. This can be a good thing, however, facilities are often overwhelmed with donations and clothes end up getting thrown out. A better long term solution would be to produce less and produce clothes of better quality so that they can be worn longer.
Another concept XR talks about is greenwashing, which is the idea that companies brand themselves as being environmentally conscious or sustainable as a marketing tactic to get consumers to buy their clothes. The problem is that there is no clear definition of sustainability. Consumers are usually presented with two options; those that are organic/sustainable goods and those that aren’t and then made to feel guilty for choosing the non-sustainable item. That guilt pushes them to buy “organic” when in most cases the products are the same and either way the money goes to the company. “It's just disheartening the way capitalism works, giving consumers false options and presenting them with making a moral or immoral choice when really no matter what they do they are just feeding this completely corrupt company”.
Mental Health Impact of Working in the Climate Movement
Climate change is a big issue that can be very upsetting. Many of its effects are disturbing so it is important to talk about them and use them as motivation to take action. Extinction Rebellion has a “regenerative culture” which is community building and taking care of one another. “In order to get people through the fight...you need to have people there with you who can help you along and share experiences with you and celebrate victories...and look toward to the future and not consider anything impossible or out of reach”.....”For me it's been great to be part of XR, to be part of the climate group because it makes me feel like I'm doing the most that I can do to help stop it. Doing the work makes me feel less stressed when I hear terrible news about some new disaster that happened because I know that I'm doing something like I'm trying which puts my mind at ease in terms of what impact I can have and what change I can make”.
What You Can Do to Help?
There are many wonderful organizations like XR, Sunrise and The International Indigenous Youth Council, and ways to help make an impact whether big or small. Community building, writing letters to your representatives advocating for legislation that protects the climate, attending a march or picking up trash all are ways to make a difference. “it's a very multifaceted battle that we're fighting that includes racism and and all these struggles that are sort of in a lot of ways connected to one another and even though people are fighting different parts of it that's okay”.
XR Youth has a large network throughout the country and internationally. If you want to see what XR is doing in NYC, check out their instagram @xryouth.nyc At XR, there are many opportunities available for those who want to get involved, there are action coordinators, an arts team, a communications team where you can create social media posts, an education team, a fashion team and lots more options based on your interests. “As a group of people, we have more power than we do as individuals. It's really important that we consider ourselves as a whole group and not just as one person against the whole system against the whole world. Becoming part of a community like XR is really a great way to start!”