"The Teenagers at the End of the World"

"Young climate activists like Jamie Margolin are building a movement while growing up — planning mass protests from childhood bedrooms and during school."

"In February, Jamie Margolin gave a talk at the Seattle middle school from which she graduated just a few years before. As a founder of Zero Hour, a youth-led group advocating for climate action, she does a lot of public speaking — in a few days, she would help warm up a crowd of 17,000 for Bernie Sanders — but her talks with younger children are special. She often feels, she says, as if she’s speaking to her former self. She always starts with an apology: “I know this is unfair. I wish the future could be better than this.” And then she ends by telling kids that they, too, have the power to take action. Before becoming an activist, she tells them, “I was sitting in your seats, not knowing what to do.”

Her message, about the scary realities of climate change and the need to do something about them, is a big one for children to take in. One fifth grader, teary-eyed, asked her, “Do you think we’re going to make it?” But Margolin thinks that young people, armed with information and outrage, have a unique role to play in combating the environmental crises that will define their lives. One middle-school student at the event raised a hand to ask why polluting the earth, because it’s so dangerous and so unfair, isn’t illegal, which struck her as a pretty reasonable question. Children, she told me, “think about it in a logical way that’s more scientific than adults with Ph.D.s. Adults, they go into a whole explanation, but kids will just be like, This is wrong.”

Now 18, Margolin has been helping run a large organization for years. The Zero Hour Slack group, where leadership and core organizers communicate, has more than 100 members. She has met with politicians and celebrities, helped plan international protests from her high school and joined a group of children suing her home state, Washington, for violating their constitutional rights by contributing to climate change. She has seen change be slow and disappointing and watched herself become more jaded, more aware of the impediments to the kinds of transformation she is seeking. To be a teenager in the climate movement is to balance innocence and pragmatism, to inhabit a strange but also deeply useful dual perspective. “I’m not like, What are taxes?” she said. “I’m not that young.” But she’s also able to hear the question from the middle schooler and imagine that the world could still be different, to think: You know what? You’re absolutely right. It should, and even could, be illegal.

“I still have the outrage,” she said. “It’s not like I’m 40.”"

Brooke Jarvis reports for the New York Times Magazine July 21, 2020.

Source: NYTimes, 07/22/2020