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Young Black Activists Remaking the Climate Movement

These young Black leaders are helping build a climate movement that’s as equitable as it is powerful.


In the US, you don’t have to look hard to see environmental racism and climate injustice in action.

On the environmental front, race is the number one predictor of exposure to pollutants — even more so than income. After all, people of color are much more likely than White Americans to live near polluting facilities like dirty coal plants filling the air with dangerous toxins like nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. The result is that overall, people of color are exposed to as much as 63% more pollution than they produce – while White Americans are exposed to 17% less.

On the climate front, the story is much the same. For example, studies show that coastal communities in the South, where the Black population is relatively large, are those most threatened by rising seas. And other research has found that, because of discriminatory housing policies, predominantly Black neighborhoods often have more pavement, fewer trees, and higher average temperatures — a problem that will only worsen in a warming planet.

Now, the unjust role that race plays in the climate crisis could hardly be clearer, but it’s not the only one. Being young today also presents an unfair burden: the reality that, without drastic action today, it’s young people that will have to deal with far more catastrophic climate impacts tomorrow.  

Taking these two realities into consideration, Black youth are at the crossroads of climate injustice like no other group.

That’s why young Black leaders are standing up for the planet, and in the process, are pushing the global climate movement toward higher ideals. Here’s a few outstanding individuals whose work today gives us hope for a more sustainable, more equitable future.


Hailing from White Plains, New York, Vic Barret is a force to be reckoned with within the climate movement. Apart from being one of 21 plaintiffs suing the US government over their constitutional right to a safe climate, Vic has organized local frontline climate campaigns, met with the minister of environment and energy for the Maldives, spoken at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, and participated in countless climate marches.

Yes, his passion for climate justice could be described. But undoubtedly, Vic’s own words speak for themselves:

“Our world is so unjust and every day I feel this dull pain in my heart reminding me that people are suffering so deeply from climate change and other social issues at a disproportionate rate for no other reason than who they are and where they’re from. We can’t carry on as a society of indifference and injustice.”


A post shared by Vic Barrett (@vicbarrett_)


Jerome Foster II — a fierce climate justice and voting rights advocate we’ve had the good fortune of working with — is the executive director of OneMillionOfUs, co-editor-in-chief at the Climate Reporter, and former House Congressional intern for Congressman John Lewis. Among many other actions for the planet, Jerome was the first consecutive White House climate striker starting in February of 2019 as a part of Fridays for Future International Climate Rallies.


At just eight years old, Mari Copeny wrote a letter to then-President Barack Obama asking if he would visit her and other citizens of Flint, Michigan. This was in the midst of the city’s now infamous water pollution crisis.

President Obama not only responded to her, but personally visited Flint and ultimately directed $100 million to help repair the city’s water system.

That was incredible, but it was just the start. Since then, Copeny — also known as “Little Miss Flint” — has continued being a fierce and effective advocate for everyone’s right to clean water and a safe environment.


Nigerian activist Oladosu Adenike is a passionate proponent of youth climate action. That, and of emphasizing the connection between women’s rights and environmental rights.

Focused particularly on the devastating climate impacts already taking place in the Lake Chad region of Nigeria, Oladuso’s efforts highlight how the climate crisis is clearly already impacting real people.


Litokne Kabua’s rise as a climate advocate was as much a need as it was a brave choice. Having been born and raised in the Marshall Islands, he and his family face the already real and growing threat of sea-level rise. Now, he is one of the 16 children taking part in Children vs the Climate Crisis, a petition to the UN to act on climate change.


Having founded the Rise up Movement — an organization working to amplify the voices of activists in Africa — Vanessa Nakate is a much-needed voice of clarity on climate justice for people of color and the Global South alike.

In her own words:

“The Paris Agreement aims to keep temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius — but I want people to understand that a rise of 1.2 degrees Celsius is already hell for me and other people living in Uganda and on the African continent. We’ve had severe droughts, floods, and storms, which are getting worse as a result of climate change… Countries in the Global South are suffering the most as a result of climate change, but have contributed the least. And it’s people of color that are the least listened-to in the climate movement.”


To build a winning coalition and secure a safe, sustainable future, we need to understand and respond to how social inequities connect to the climate crisis. Only then will we be telling the real story of climate change and a crisis that doesn’t affect everyone equally.

If you’re ready to learn more and take action, we welcome you to sign up for our email activist list. We’ll keep you posted on the latest in the movement for an equitable movement and just climate solutions.