This year, as part of The Next Louisville, WFPL is highlighting the stories of youth in our community. Some of that is through long- and short-form stories about kids, teenagers and young adults and their interests, achievements and challenges. You’ll also hear more first-person stories about and by young people in Louisville.
As part of this project, we’ve planned a different kind of platform to let youth talk about issues that matter to them.
Six youth talk shows are planned this year, all focusing on different topics, in partnership with WE Day Kentucky. In this edition, four young people met in our studio to talk about the environment and climate change — talking about ways they’ve become involved in climate activism, and their wishes for the future.
The discussion was moderated by Fernanda Scharfenberger, a senior Presentation Academy. Joining her in the studio were Bayley Amburgey, a senior at the University of Louisville, Scotty Monteith, a senior at Saint Xavier High School and Nia Douglas, a senior at the Brown School.
Why do you care about climate change or how has it affected you and your own lives?
Bayley: “I am actually from Appalachia. I’m from Eastern Kentucky…my papaw was a coal miner for 27 years. And then my great grandpa was a coal miner for 49 years. The reason I got involved in climate justice is because my papaw, he actually had a lot of health complications from working in the mines. And I realized that coal actually was causing health complications for people who didn’t even work within the mines in my hometown, because of the water pollution that it causes, as well as high cancer rates, polluting the air, things like that.
“My papaw actually ended up passing away from black lung disease. The cause of death that the doctor said was a heart attack, but the heart attack was caused because his lungs were not functional from working in the mines for so long and breathing in ash and soot every day. So yeah, I lost him when I was 13 years old.
“And I knew I was upset about it, but I didn’t know the bigger political implications until I got to college and learned about climate policy and justice and the actual effects of coal on the environment…People deserve jobs where they don’t have to breathe in toxic fumes and pollution every day, but still be able to make it a living wage and have good health care.”
Scotty: “My mom was in the army so I’ve been pretty much all over the world and I’ve been fortunate enough to see the amazing world that we live in. And because of this, I love nature and I want my kids to experience the same type of love for nature and the earth.
“We were at Glacier Park up in Montana, and I remember them mentioning that around 2030, almost all their glaciers would be gone. That just struck me something that we shouldn’t be OK with; this park is called ‘Glacier National Park,’ and they’re not going to have glaciers in a few years. So, that’s why I started getting into activism.”
Nia: “In an urban setting and also in the black community, climate in general, and the environment is not really mainstream topic. But it has very detrimental effects that we don’t even realize. So I think it’s important to just spread that to everyone that I know, and let them know.”
Fernanda: “For me, it really connects back to core values and this belief that I have, that no young person should have to fear for their life in the place that they call home. Last September, we had a period of really heavy flash floods, and during one of them a boy at Trinity named Davey passed away during one of these flash floods. And for me, that really woke me up to the impact that the climate crisis was already having on our community of Louisville. And that’s kind of what spurred me into taking action and getting involved in the different organizations I’m now active in leadership roles.”
What barriers have you faced and trying to enact change as a young person? And what has been the hardest part of being a climate advocate?
Scotty: “I guess, climate change deniers. It’s a science and people are saying like, ‘I don’t think that’s all there.’ Like, imagine walking into your freshman biology class and being like, ‘I don’t think that that’s what a plant cell looks like,’ with no prior knowledge…That’s what’s probably the most annoying thing for me.”
Bayley: “I have two things that I think are really challenging. The first being that a lot of adults like to comment things like on social media, when they see videos of kids protesting and they’re like ‘shouldn’t those kids be in school,’ or ‘what are they doing? These kids have no idea what they’re talking about.’
“And it’s just like…they’re seeing videos of those young kids and assuming based on the fact that they’re in high school that they don’t know that climate change is happening. I mean, it’s October 2, and it’s 97 degrees outside. I don’t really think that there’s a debate at this point. The fact that people have the audacity to be doing nothing and then talk trash on people who are out there actively trying to make a difference, especially talking down to them, because they’re children is very, very frustrating to me.
“And the other being both inside and outside the climate movement, I’ve noticed the lack of talk around things like immigration, things like race, things like being a woman, being trans: identity and how that plays into climate change.
“Displacement is going to be a major issue. I read an article that said in the 2030s sometime, the Middle East is going to be too hot to occupy. Where are all those people going to go? …And no one wants to address the fact that black people tend to be in the most polluted areas of the country, no one wants to address the fact that if we would have not displaced indigenous folks who lived off the land, the land would still be in pristine condition. No one wants to talk about those kinds of things. No one wants to talk about how reparations is a part of climate change.
“So that’s another really frustrating thing for me is just the lack of intersectionality within the movement, because…there’s no way we’ll be able to solve for the absolutely drastic things that are coming if we don’t take absolutely drastic measures.”
Nia: “Being in the black community, it really just is not a mainstream issue to a lot of people. So trying to get the word out to them is a challenge.”
Fernanda: “More and more, I’ve been feeling like I’ve been having upsetting conversations with other young people around the uncertainty of our futures as young people. How has the climate crisis changed how you think about the future, both as a citizen of this global world that we live in and also in relation to your own professional goals and the way you see your future shaping up?
“I know, for me, personally, I’ve definitely always been a high achieving student. And so I had this dream that I’d get into a good college, I would work really hard on academics. And I knew I always wanted to be in the political spectrum of things, but knew that I would have a platform to be able to advocate for the issues that I care about. But with this looming threat of climate change, and as I become more educated about it, that’s motivated me to now decide that I’m taking a gap year before I start college to work full time for the 2020 elections, and also to engage more young people as first time voters and to get them plugged into these organizations.”
Scotty: “Yeah, the future is really dark, especially when you look at the news. It’s just day after day, you read other things about EPA regulations being cut or you learn that there are these programs in place but they’re not being enforced because literally no one is working under these organizations. It’s scary. I know it’s very pessimistic to think. But like, a part of me thinks that even if we don’t succeed, I know that I tried. And that’s good enough for me to know that I put up the fight.”
Bayley: “I get the question about whether I’m going to have kids. I personally have decided that when I’m older, I would like to adopt. And it’s not even necessarily because you know, a lot of people make the argument that the world’s overpopulated. My issue is more… How much time do they have left? If I give birth at 30…how much time are they gonna have? I genuinely think that. I worry about how much time I’m gonna have. I think often ‘will I see my full lifespan because of climate change?’ And a lot of people think, ‘oh, you’re being dramatic.’ No, I’m really not being dramatic.
“I have decided that I want to write environmental policy with my degree. And I want to because I’m also going to teach for a little bit, I want to make an intersection between education and what we learned about climate change growing up and make that connection with climate policy and things like that.”
What action would you like to see out of our own elected officials? And how can adult allies be supportive of us youth and our work?
Bayley: “From officials, I would love to see some concrete policy. That would be incredible. So many cities have passed green new deals, including New York. If a local green New Deal can be passed, that’s incredible.
“Honestly, if you’re not going to help us take on the work, funding is a huge thing. Especially being a college student trying to organize and pay my rent, it’s almost impossible…So a lot of it’s funding to help us throw these events and buy food for people when they come out and help it make sure everybody’s fed and all that stuff: that’s the stuff that adults can help us with, because it’s kind of hard for us to do it ourselves.”
Nia: “I’ve noticed a lot of times when I’m in the same space as [elected officials] when they’re talking directed towards youth, they like to, like pressure on us and say, ‘get involved within politics and stuff,’ and ‘we hear what you’re saying and we’ll get back to you’ and all that…if you could actually put action action to those words, that’d be great.”
The Next Louisville project is a collaboration between WFPL News and the Community Foundation of Louisville. For more work from the project, click here.