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San Diego high school students speak after walking out as part of the Global Climate Strike, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.
Andrew Bowen / KPBS
San Diego high school students speak after walking out as part of the Global Climate Strike, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019.

Four youth climate activists talk about how to make a difference during a climate crisis

As the climate crisis continues across the nation, young people are at the forefront of climate activism. The climate crisis has brought many people together, with one goal in mind: saving the future. In San Diego, students participate in climate action in a number of ways, from newsletters to climate action strikes to lobbying for legislation in Sacramento.

As part of a KPBS Midday Edition Earth Day 2022 special show, KPBS spoke to four committed young activists, who are all a part of San Diego 350’s Youth 4 Climate organization.

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Courtesy of Bee Mittermiller / SanDiego350
Youth climate activist Sienna Lang joins thousands of youth and adult supporters during a youth climate strike in downtown San Diego, Sept. 24, 2021.

Sienna Lang, 11, writes an environmental newsletter and is passionate about action against climate change.

"I am writing about my club that I'm going to be starting, and I think what I want to do is I want to spread the word, and I want to make sure that people are taking action themselves. It's called an environmental club, and it's at my school," Lang said. "I was thinking that maybe we could do a trash pickup, like a neighborhood cleanup around our school, maybe some writing letters to the president to help save 30% of our oceans and lands by 2030. I think that, if he talks to companies and charities, they can help, and I think that, if he spreads the word, I think it would be good."

Keala Minna-Choe, 16, leads SanDiego350’s Youth v. Oil team, which seeks to put pressure on Governor Gavin Newsom to end oil extraction in California. She also co-leads the San Diego Climate Reality Project Youth Environmental Action Pod.

"I grew up in South Florida, and I was actually born during the 2005 hurricane season, so, for me, literally at my birth, I was born in a hurricane. I was immediately affected by the climate crisis and I didn't know it. But, once I learned more about what climate change was and what the actual impact behind climate change, when I moved to San Diego, I knew that I had to act because I knew that I had to get involved and help stop it to prevent worse effects from happening. And to help preserve the future of everyone," Minna-Choe said. "I believe that a lot of youth really care about our planet, especially since we are the ones that have the most to lose to the climate crisis. We have our futures to lose, we have our whole lives ahead of us."

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Joe Orellana
Youth climate activist Keala Minna-Choe speaks to other students about the need for collective action for climate, at a climate strike in San Diego, March 25, 2022.

Minna-Choe said there were many actions that people could take to help fight the climate crisis.

"I highly encourage everyone, if possible, to sign the Youth v. Oil petition. This petition encourages the San Diego City Council to pass a resolution that Youth v. Oil completely wrote and has completely advocated for, all by high school students, which is very unique and showed the true power of youth voices," Minna-Choe said.

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Joe Orellana
Youth climate activist Natalia Armenta leads a group of youth chanting and marching at a youth climate strike in San Diego, March 25, 2022.

Natalia Armenta, 17, works with various climate groups, including Youth v. Oil and CA Youth vs. Big Oil, and is co-lead of the San Diego Climate Reality Project Youth Environmental Action Pod.

"I remember when I was first learning about (climate change) and also just witnessing it growing up in a low-income community of color. I was very fearful, anxious and also frustrated about the climate crisis. Just seeing the expense and impact that it was going to have on my future, on young people across the state, across the country, across the nation, and especially those who are continuously facing this issue being at the front line and being impacted by health issues caused by the climate crisis and fumes and fuels from the fossil fuel industry," Armenta said.

RELATED: How to turn your climate anxiety into climate activism

Theo Martien, 17, leads the Eco Club Coalition and is part of Youth v. Oil. He helped write and pass a resolution through the San Diego Unified School District to get students to do Earth Day presentations at their schools.

"Thinking back, I think some of the first times I was exposed to concepts like climate change, or just pollution in general, was about simpler things like trash and recycling. I've lived in San Diego my whole life, so learning about not littering on the beach and all of that. I think sort of, as I've grown up, I've began to realize how much bigger of an issue this was than I first thought. And I've just grown more and more concerned about my future and the lives of people in front-line communities now," Martien said.

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Joe Orellana
Youth climate activist Theo Martien delivers a speech during a youth climate strike in San Diego, March 25, 2022.

Martien said making a difference against climate change was a collective effort.

"I don't want to discourage people from taking action on their own, but collective action is the only way we can solve problems perpetuated by systems and our government. We can take individual action in our day-to-day lives that aids systemic action. But, as nice as individual actions are — and I'm not going to discourage them — we really need to step up and work together to solve things on a grander scale," Martien said.

Megan Phelps, program coordinator at SanDiego350’s Youth4Climate, said students, teachers and adult supporters interested in helping make a difference on climate could join the team by filling out the SanDiego350 volunteer interest form and indicating interest in the Youth4Climate team.

Emilyn Mohebbi is a producer for KPBS Midday Edition. Her role includes pitching segment ideas, writing web stories, conducting interviews with guests, and audio production.
Maureen Cavanaugh has been a familiar voice for KPBS listeners for more than 15 years, serving in a variety of capacities including announcer, host, and producer. As host of KPBS Midday Edition, Maureen has interviewed a wide range of notables, such as comedienne Sandra Bernhardt, actor John Lequizamo, author Chuck Palahniuk, composer Marvin Hamlisch, artist Robert Irwin, and designer Zandra Rhodes. But of all the interviews Maureen has conducted, her most special was with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. Before joining KPBS in 1997, she worked as a news anchor for KSDO and KOGO News Radio in San Diego. While working for commercial radio stations in San Diego and in Salt Lake City, Utah, Maureen reported on both hard news and lifestyle features. Maureen has received three "Golden Mike" awards from the Radio and TV News Association of Southern California for economic reporting and breaking news. She has also received a "Best of Show" and “Best Radio Newscast” awards from the San Diego Press Club and the "Flo" Award from Public Radio Program Directors Association for Best Public Radio Announcer in a large market. Maureen is a native of Queens, New York, but after more than 20 years in San Diego she feels she qualifies as a real Southern Californian.