Meet the DNC climate speaker inspired by Greta to strike outside the UN in New York (even in a polar vortex)

New Yorker Alexandria Villaseñor, 15, spoke alongside Katherine Lorenzo, an Afro-Latina activist from Nevada, and Andrew Adamski, whose family have a sustainable farm in Wisconsin

Louise Boyle
New York
Thursday 20 August 2020 20:00 BST
Youth climate activists call on voters to give them a 'fighting chance' at DNC

Youth activists were the prominent voices to emerge from last night’s DNC segment on tackling the climate crisis, calling on voters to give them a “fighting chance” by backing Joe Biden.

They were led by Alexandria Villaseñor, a 15-year-old New Yorker, who has spent every Friday for the past two years striking on a bench outside the United Nations building in Manhattan.

The high school student picked up the protest baton stateside after being inspired by Greta Thunberg, the teen who began her "School Strike for Climate" outside of the Swedish parliament building on 20 August 2018 - exactly two years ago.

The teens have spent every Friday, come rain or shine, drawing attention to the climate emergency, nearly 4,000 miles apart.

One week even involved Ms Villaseñor burrowing into a subzero sleeping bag as she protested in the middle of a polar vortex that descended on the city, the New Yorker explained last year.

Over the past two years, they have been joined by thousands of other young people from around the world in the movement leading to the massive 2019 youth-led global climate strikes.

However her Swedish ally was not the only thing that motivated Ms Villaseñor to act, as she told the nation on Wednesday.

“I was 13 when the Camp Fire, the most destructive wild fire in California’s history, broke out,” the 15-year-old said in a pre-recorded message played on the DNC convention's livestream.

“We were visiting family nearly 100 miles way but my asthma flared badly. I could hardly breathe.”

She added: “Climate change is impacting us now and it’s robbing my generation of a future.”

Climate activist Katherine Lorenzo spoke about her experiences of pollution growing up in a low-income neighborhood at the 2020 Democratic National Convention

The clip also featured powerful statements from fellow youth advocates Katherine Lorenzo, an Afro-Latina activist who works with Chispa, a Latino-focused advocacy group, and Andrew Adamski, whose family have owned Full Circle Community Farm in Pulaski, Wisconsin for 120 years.

Ms Lorenzo, from Las Vegas, Nevada, began by saying: “Not a lot of climate activists look like me" before going on to explain how her activism had been shaped by her childhood.

“I grew up in a low-income neighbourhood where pollution rates are often higher than wealthier areas and a lot of kids have asthma," she said. “Switching to renewable energy would mean cleaner air, better health and a steadier income for folks in neighbourhoods like mine."

Her message touched on a Biden campaign promise of tackling environmental injustices which disproportionately affect low-income, indigenous communities and communities of colour.

Mr Adamski addressed another tenant of Mr Biden's manifesto - the promise of a "clean energy revolution" - and appeared to nod to President Trump's dereliction of duty when it came to tackling the climate crisis.

“Us farmers can see the effects of climate change happening right in front of us," he said. "So we’ve been trying to do our part by adopting sustainable solutions on my family’s farm."

He added that the country needed leaders “who are part of the solution, not part of the problem. We need them to commit to the science, not ignore it".

Andrew Adamski spoke about sustainability from his family's farm in Wisconsin at the DNC

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, at one point a rumored Biden VP contender, opened the climate portion of the evening.

The first Democratic Latina to be elected governor in US history, she has come out swinging to tackle the climate crisis since taking office. Her 2019 executive order set a goal of 2030 to reduce New Mexico's greenhouse gas emissions by at least 45 per cent.

During the segment, the Biden campaign also used a video clip to draw a direct line from America's space race of the 1960s, and the moon landing, to the kind of ingenuity and tech innovations needed to tackle the climate problems today. The first video clip, featuring a voice over from a union worker, also pushed the message that overhauling US energy systems equates to jobs, jobs, jobs.

Biden last month announced plans for a $2 trillion investment in clean energy over four years, with a goal of transitioning the nation's power supply from gas and coal to renewables by 2035.

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