Climate changer: Youth activists are fighting for their own future

As the planet continues to increase in temperature, 11-year-old Gudrun Campbell says we don't have time to argue. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith As the planet continues to increase in temperature, 11-year-old Gudrun Campbell says we don’t have time to argue. Photo: Amy and Jackson Smith

Flashback to March 15, when the Downtown Mall teemed with 200 miniature activists rallying as part of the national Youth Climate Strike. Among them was 11-year-old Gudrun Campbell, who fearlessly gripped a microphone attached by a curly black cord to the bullhorn held by her dad.

Drawing the mic half an inch from her mouth, she declared, “For years, our government has known about climate change, and for years, they have done nothing.”

Her voice hung over the near-silent crowd of peers and parents.

“We will not sit here and watch them do nothing. We will not sit here and watch them trade our futures, and the futures of millions of people, millions of children, for profits of billions of dollars. We can’t.”

And then the sixth-grader, her blonde hair pulled back in a low ponytail, read a list of demands for grown up government leaders: approve the Green New Deal and transition entirely to renewable energy by 2030, declare a national emergency on climate change, mandate comprehensive education on global warming in schools, commit to reforestation, and change the agriculture industry to focus on plant-based instead of carbon-based farming.

The Walker Upper Elementary student, who also plays cello in the school orchestra and studies Brazilian jiu-jitsu, says her interest in environmental activism was ignited earlier this year, when her language arts teacher showed the class a video of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg’s headline-making speech in Davos, Switzerland.

Campbell says she went home and read more about Thunberg and the climate, which led her to  “school strikes” and Alexandria Villaseñor, a 13-year-old climate activist who’s been skipping school every Friday to protest in front of the United Nations. Then Campbell and a classmate coordinated the local strike, which she called “necessary.”

“I organized it because there isn’t any time to quietly contemplate the pros and cons of fighting to save our planet, only time to act,” she says.

And while she has certainly proven that she can talk the talk, she’s also walking the walk.

Last summer, Campbell was one of many protesting the Mountain Valley and Atlantic Coast natural gas pipelines, which opponents say would destroy landscapes, contaminate drinking water, disproportionately affect minorities, and create dirty energy that won’t be needed because of the country’s transition to renewables.

“Stopping them means putting pressure on Dominion Energy and the state to halt the construction of the pipelines and the Union Hill compressor station,” she says, referencing one of three ACP compressors proposed in a small, predominantly black neighborhood in Buckingham County, which was partially founded by emancipated slaves, and where Dominion would like to build in the immediate vicinity of unmarked slave burials.

On the last weekend in March, Campbell joined Villaseñor and other young climate activists in a strike outside the U.N.’s headquarters in New York City.

“Meeting these people gives me hope that more youth will join us in standing against the climate crisis and creating lasting and meaningful change,” she says.

And because opponents often criticize environmental advocates for the carbon footprint of their activism, Gudrun is quick to clap back.

“Back off haters, I took the train.”

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