SEATTLE — Gabriel Mandell is standing on stage at a recent anti-climate rally at a Seattle park squeezed between the railroad tracks and Elliott Bay.
“We’re on the fossil fuel nightmare express hurtling into a future we do not want,” he yells into the microphone. “To get off this train before it gets too far down the tracks, we have to stop Keystone XL! We have to stop the coal trains!”
The crowd of hundreds cheers in agreement.
Mandell’s voice is big and booming, but the rest of him is quite small.
He’s 11 years old, just starting middle school. And he’s flanked by a handful of other adolescents, kids who call themselves climate justice ambassadors.
“We want you to look at our faces to remind you why we need to draw the line against fossil fuel exports in the Northwest,” Mandell says to the crowd.
Mandell and his crew are part of a growing number of children worldwide who are asking adults and governments to take action to fight climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A recent Unicef study (pdf) found that children around the world will bear the brunt of the impact of climate change. The study points out that children growing up today will experience first hand effects of climate change in the form of increased droughts, floods and storms. In the 10 most vulnerable countries, including India, Bangladesh and the Philippines, there are 620 million children under 18.
Mandell says he was inspired by the story of a 9-year-old boy from Germany named Felix Finkbeiner who started the Plant-for-the-Planet campaign, an effort to plant a billion trees worldwide.
Subsequent Plant-for-the-Planet chapters have sprung up around the world with children participating in academies to learn how to make an impact by studying climate change effects and developing public speaking skills.
This past spring the first Plant-for-the-Planet Academy in the United States took place in Seattle and Mandell was one of 80 children to participate. On Oct. 26, two more academies are being held in Seattle with space for 160 children.
Michael Foster is the behind-the-scenes parent organizing these workshops. His two daughters took part in the May workshop and have since taken action through planting trees, writing letters, talking to elected officials and giving public presentations about the impacts of climate change.
Children talking about climate change are difficult to ignore, Foster says.
Last year, 12-year-old Rachel Howell captivated audiences at the final scoping hearing for the Gateway Pacific coal export terminal proposed to be built near Bellingham, Wash. She said, “My generation will pay a high price for the global warming that you do. This is the future that you’re creating for us and this isn’t the future that we want so please don’t build these coal export terminals, it’s just not fair to my generation.”
Watch Rachel’s testimony in the EarthFix documentary COAL:
Mandell, following in Howell’s footsteps, spoke this week in Tacoma at the final scoping hearing for the proposed Longview coal export terminal.
“We need to do more,” Mandell said. “We need to act as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.”
— Katie Campbell
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