Photo Essay by Michael Benanav.
On September 21, 2019, hundreds of young climate activists from around the world came together in New York City for the United Nations Youth Climate Summit. Some spoke in halls filled with an array of international representatives. Others talked about the projects they’re championing. Many attended climate action workshops.
The summit took place one day after the Global Youth Climate Strike, which added to a shared sense that maybe, just maybe, momentum was on their side, that their fight for the environment could yet be won. Swedish activist Greta Thunberg was there—she would speak before the UN General Assembly two days later—as were many others who are committing their lives to climate causes.
Here, we present photos of a handful of them, along with brief thoughts on the bold and necessary work they are doing.
Bahloul: “Young people have the tools to communicate effectively, we just need to have the courage to spread our ideas. No matter how old you are, or your gender, or where you’re from, you can spread your message.” Hoang: “You need to believe in yourself and try something regardless of the results. Raise your voice and keep trying, even if no one listens the first time.”
“Indigenous youth should be encouraged to raise their voices…and mainstream societies should engage with them and hear what they have to say.
They protect the forest, the planet, the future…they need to have a presence in an international space.”
“In our culture, land is traditionally passed down through our mothers, generation after generation, so our land is our identity. If climate change threatens our land, it threatens our identity…we use arts so people can understand how we experience climate change. Instead of just giving facts and figures, our poetry makes people get in touch with how they can imagine what we imagine – it’s more intimate and hits on an emotional level, and there has to be something emotional for people to latch on to if they are going to care. Poetry hooks them.”
“We need to help create an atmosphere where governments will listen to us. We have to work with them and try to avoid an adversarial relationship. It’s crucial to get youth and government involved together in the process…And we should be talking more about solutions than just pointing out problems—governments will listen better then.”
“I’m working to create a platform for sustainable ideas that can help businesses, institutions and individuals, including youth, to reduce our impact on the planet, to benefit current and future generations. We need to look at challenges as opportunities!”
“A group of different youth organizations with different agendas got together, and we were able to unite over what we wanted to see done on climate change. In a matter of weeks we presented a list of demands to the German government that was more powerful than if it had come from just one of us….Working together and putting aside small differences for bigger goals.”
“We’re starting State of Youth so young people everywhere can vote on issues that affect us all – it’s kind of like a virtual country, made up of youth. The results of our ‘preferendum’ will be presented to world leaders, so they can know what millions of us want…I think it will also help young people see that they are important and won’t be judged by their age.”
“I’ve seen places on our islands disappearing. We can’t imagine having to leave our homes, our ancestry, our identity.
We are not causing climate change, but we will fight it to save our islands.”
About the Photographer: Michael Benanav is a writer and photographer. His most recent book is Himalaya Bound: One Family’s Quest to Save Their Animals and an Ancient Way of Life.