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    February 16, 2021 | 8:00 AM

    The Youth Climate Movement: Looking Back and Moving Forward

    In recent years, the youth climate movement has seen exponential growth. Young activists from all around the world are participating in the global discussion around the climate crisis, environmental justice, and inclusive solutions.

    The climate crisis could create a dangerous future for all, with younger generations bearing the brunt of the dire impact. However, inspired by global activists like 15-year-old Greta Thunberg, young people are lifting up their voices and fighting back.

    They continued to do so throughout 2020 too, despite its many other challenges.

    Last year was supposed to be a benchmark year of climate action. With countless important climate conventions, international meetings, and symposiums scheduled for 2020, we had a communal goal: uniting together in a global mobilization to combat the climate crisis.

    Unfortunately, many of these events were cancelled or postponed due to COVID-19. And yet, the youth climate movement continued to find innovative ways to mobilize, organize, and exercise its power in this complicated new era.

    Partnerships and Coalitions

    Partnerships and coalitions played a large role in 2020 organizing tactics as the youth movement adapted to organizing during a pandemic.

    Many partnerships were formed, building relationships with civic engagement, racial justice, and environmental justice organizations.

    Climate Reality made a commitment to uplift, amplify, and expand the reach of this important work and expand its partnerships. The Students Learn Students Vote Coalition was a staple in aiding Climate Reality’s Campus Corps chapters throughout the election season by distributing resources, celebrating civic engagement holidays, and plugging supporters into actions that bolstered voter registration and turnout among young people across the US.

    Digital Campaigns

    As we all looked forward to the historic fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, it became clear that this year would be very different than we initially envisioned.

    By partnering with Future Coalition – a youth-led coalition comprised of major youth and adult-led organizations – we were able to join many youth and climate activists to celebrate Earth Day virtually, while building power across the social justice space.

    Earth Day Live brought together celebrities, activists, scientists, politicians, faith leaders, and artists of all ages from around the world, including our own founder and chairman, former US Vice President Al Gore, to discuss and act on the intersecting issues of climate justice.

    Many Climate Reality Campus Corps chapters participated in amplifying and attending the livestream, as well as digitally promoting the actions for the three-day event. This historic day for our planet is being referred to as the largest online mass mobilization ever, and was made possible by youth partnerships, including our own Campus Corps.


    This year, we heard the cry for racial, social, environmental, and climate justice loud and clear. With a long overdue racial reckoning across the United States, and in countless other cities worldwide, it quickly became apparent that we cannot effectively combat the climate crisis without also fighting for racial equality.

    Because climate justice is racial justice.    

    After the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and countless others sent shockwaves through the United States, millions of people demanded accountability, justice, and a way forward that prioritized racial justice. Although the Black Lives Matter movement saw support from young and old, youth Black organizers played a key role in carrying the message forward, and educating the masses via social media about the history of systemic racism.

    With this explosion of infographics, workshops, resource library threads, and petition campaigns for justice, organizers across all social justice sectors began seeing and incorporating the overlapping systems of harm in their messaging and their vision for the road forward.

    Campus Corps Chapters Meeting the Challenge

    Many climate organizations recognized the need to center racial justice in our work, including Climate Reality, and are working to rectify the historically White-centric climate and environmental space.

    This year, our Campus Corps chapters worked to build transformative relationships with racial, social, and environmental justice organizations in their communities and on their campuses. Emory University’s Climate Reality Campus Corps chapter in Atlanta, Georgia has been intentionally building relationships in their community. Their growing partnership with the NAACP youth chapter on their campus fostered several intersectional events hosted together.

    The Climate Reality Project: Iowa State University Campus Corps Chapter also made great strides in partnering with and uplifting racial and social justice movements in Ames, Iowa. Black Lives Matter Ames and Iowa State University: Multicultural Student Affairs are just two of the many organizations that this chapter worked in solidarity with.

    Through building these relationships, our Campus Corps chapters are doing the necessary work to make the climate and environmental movement inclusive, equitable, and representative of the communities most impacted by climate change and fossil fuel buildout.

    Getting Out the Vote

    Among the loud calls for justice and solidarity, encouraging the youth vote to exercise their democratic right in one of the most historic elections of their time demanded attention across the US.

    Historically, voter turnout among young people tends to be significantly lower than that of other generations. But as we saw throughout the year, 2020 was truly an exception – and the youth voting bloc ultimately turned out in record numbers.

    Voter turnout among those ages 18 to 29 increased by more than 8 percent in 2020 compared to previous years, according to estimates from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) at Tufts University. For the 2016 election, youth turnout was 42-44 percent; it jumped to more than 52 percent in 2020.

    This jump was no accident – it was powered by youth organizers across the nation utilizing digital and on-the-ground tactics to get out the vote.

    Campus Corps chapters and youth Climate Reality Leaders across the nation participated in local and national voter registration and get out the vote campaigns. Through social media, on-the-ground COVID-19-safe efforts, and partnerships with civic engagement organizations, our climate champions helped make history.

    Join Us

    Last year was a year full of ups and downs. It affirmed for many organizers the power of social media. It reminded people that just being with our loved ones can be an immense privilege. And it exposed so much that has historically been swept under the rug.

    2020 presented an opportunity for growth, and continued to highlight the valuable role young people play in creating tangible change, accountability, and racial and environmental justice. As we look forward to 2021, let us remember the lessons learned from the past year, and remind each other that we all have the power to stand up and make a difference.

    Whether you’re a youth activist yourself, or an aspiring adult ally for the youth leading the way, we encourage you to get involved!

    If you are in college, consider joining your school’s Climate Reality Campus Corps chapter. And if you are ready to take the next step, learn what it means to be a leader in the climate movement by joining us for our upcoming Climate Reality Leadership Corps Virtual US Training.

    Learn more now.

    Before You Go

    At Climate Reality, we work hard to create high-quality educational content like blogs, e-books, videos, and more to empower people all over the world to fight for climate solutions and stand together to drive the change we need. We are a nonprofit organization that believes there is hope in unity, and that together, we can build a safe, sustainable future.

    But we can't do it without your help.

    If you enjoyed what you’ve just read and would like to see more, please consider making a generous gift to support our ongoing work to fight climate denial and support solutions.

    The Climate Reality Project