By Lauren Rearick
For 38 consecutive Fridays, 14-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor has held the same ritual at a bench outside of the United Nation Headquarters in New York City. As the world continues to burn, literally, Alexandria has one thing on her mind: She wants politicians to do their part to stop climate change.
She was first inspired by personal research into the climate crisis after two events altered her life view: she experienced an asthma attack as a result of wildfire during a family camping trip, and she saw fellow student climate change activist Greta Thunberg’s protest in her home country of Sweden. On December 14, 2018, after founding Earth Uprising and joining Zero Hour, she sat outside the UN for the first time. Now, Alexandria is one of many young people participating in youth-led climate change movements. And as she told MTV News, inaction is not an option.
“It’s really important that my generation is involved in making sure that our voices are heard because will be impacted the most,” she said. “We’ll be the ones who will have to run from the next [climate change] disaster to the point that school won’t matter anymore.”
Based on an October 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we are inching closer to the disaster that students like Alexandria want to prevent — despite what some politicians, including President Donald Trump, would like people to believe. According to the IPCC, we have until 2030 to properly address climate change before droughts, rising sea levels, and dangerous weather conditions hit an irreversible point of no return.
Greta first skipped school to protest outside Parliament in Stockholm on August 20, 2018; that first step led to the founding of Fridays for Future, an international coalition of young, like-minded students from around the world. Greta’s work and her continued comments directed at world leaders have gained international recognition, and on August 14, 2019, she sailed from the U.K. to the United States for the United Nations Climate Change Summit on August 30, Reuters reported.
Alexandria told MTV News that Greta’s arrival helped the two meet for the first time. And while Greta has previously offered Alexandria some virtual advice on striking, pair planned to discuss even more IRL. “I want to see how I can amplify the global messaging in her message, especially to make sure that youth are having the same collective demands towards our leaders,” Alexandria said.
And while Alexandria has joined and led strikes in the past, she finds it “maddening” that students even have be the ones to ask world leaders to care. “We have to demand our voices be heard by people in power, and we have this climate crisis and it’s put on my generation's shoulders to fight, and it shouldn’t be that way,” she said.
As the 2020 presidential election draws closer, Alexandria has been watching the potential candidates closely. While she’s noted some political action, particularly after a successful New York City-based protest resulted in the declaration of a climate emergency, she stressed that politicians still need to do so much more. “Any person who is going to be a potential world leader needs to take the climate crisis seriously,” she said. “Politicians represent us, we elect them, we are the people who choose them to represent us. We have to continuously make sure that they are making the decisions that we as the people want them to make.”
And Alexandria is still doing her part beginning with a September 20 climate strike organized by Earth Uprising, the organization Alexandria founded earlier this year that aims to unite youth activists in demanding climate change solutions. She told MTV News that the strike is planned to coincide with the start of the UN Climate Change Summit — and anyone can join the strikes planned throughout the world.
“If people get out onto the streets then we will make our world leaders act on the climate crisis,” she said, adding that the only way to see change in this fight is to demand it.