Securing nondiscrimination protections are important, but there won’t be any jobs or housing left for us if the planet doesn’t exist. It’s this kind of zero-sum thinking that really underscores how urgent the matter of climate change is, highlighting how it might just be the biggest queer issue of all.
Thankfully, someone’s doing something about it. On Friday, kids around the world — from Thailand to Australia, Sweden to South Korea — are striking, skipping school and work to call attention to the environmental devastation that gets irrevocably worse with each passing year and legislation like the Green New Deal that could put a halt to that destruction.
“Going to school is the only thing we’re really supposed to do, but we can do so much more” says Haven Coleman, a 12-year-old climate activist from Denver who’s participating in the international Youth Climate Strike. “I hope kids understand they’ve got power.”
Out had the opportunity to speak with Coleman about the strike, why adults should listen to kids on this issue, and what we can do to support their efforts. Here’s what she said.
Hi, Haven. How are you?
I’m good, just finishing my speeches for the big international strike day tomorrow.
Can you tell us what you’re going to talk about?
It’s mostly about the power of youth, how we’re all connected, and how we’re all affected by climate change.
How would you define the power of youth? What kind of power do young people have?
So, we don’t really have any legal power. I can’t even sign a permit for state rallies. I have to get my dad to do it for me! But we have such powerful voices, and we have the power to influence adults with those voices. When I go to city council meetings, the adults pay attention. They might ignore other adults, but when I speak it’s like, “Oh, my gosh! It’s a kid! What do I do?” We can influence adults by getting them to listen. We can also stop this whole system by not going to school. We can’t vote because we don’t have legal power, but we do have power in our voices and power in our actions.
Do you remember the first time you realized you had that power?
It was at the first city council meeting I ever went to. I was the only kid in the room. When all the adults were speaking, I literally saw city council member doodling on their papers. But when I went up, they put down their pad and started listening. I actually got their attention, but all the adults got was doodles on paper. It made me realize, like, “Whoa! I’ve got some power!” [laughs] I was really excited, and I’ve gone to the same city council board meetings ever since. One time when I walked into the room, one of the people forgot to turn off his mic, and I heard him say, “Oh, no…” really loud. It was so funny! I’ve got power over elected officials? [laughs] They’re scared of me!
How’d you first get into climate activism?
Well, at the beginning it was to save the sloths. They’re my favorite, favorite animal in the whole world and have been for zillions of years. I learned that deforestation endangers them, and through that found out about climate change and noticed how climate change is affecting me — it’s affecting everybody! Even if you’re not directly affected by climate change right now, you will be affected in some way, and so will your kids and your grandkids. We only have 11 years to fix these things. That deadline is because adults forgot to do things for decades. Every second counts. Every voice counts. Every action counts. Every day we don’t act means a day that we’ve lost. If you don’t act, we lose power, and we need as much people power we can get to influence the powerful people who can make these changes.
Do you think adults have a responsibility to listen to kids on this issue?
Yeah, I think you do. You had decades of time to act and you haven’t acted. We’re the ones taking action! We’re the only ones who truly seem to understand the climate crisis and the extent of how bad it’s going to be, so listen to us! If you’re not, you’re pretty much just screwing over every generation to come.
What are some things people reading this can do right now?
Strike! [laughs] There’s going to be another strike on May 3rd, and there are going to be more after that. You can strike or help with students who strike, reach out on social media to get people to support them, wear green — anything you can do to support the youth! We’re risking a lot to do this.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.