In our latest podcast episode, two students at Thacher School in California examine how COVID-19 is affecting youth climate change activism.

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many young people around the world to stay home. So how is COVID-19 affecting young activists’ efforts to combat climate change?

That’s the question that two students at The Thacher School in California — Skye Neulight and Saga Leslie — examine in this episode of News Decoder’s podcast, The Kids Are Alright.

Neulight and Leslie, in their last year at the high school, interview two climate activists — Claire Donahue, also in her last year at Sequoyah School in Pasadena, and Sophie Arce, a graduate of the University of California Berkley and head of communications for Extinction Rebellion Ojai.

Arce acknowledges that the pandemic, by restricting people’s movements, has made it more difficult for activists combating climate change to connect with one another.

“I think that has a really high emotional impact,” Arce says. “It has been hard for people to be as connected. I’ve noticed that people aren’t as responsive to the virtual events.”

Youth climate activism has moved online.

Activists have had to move online for virtual strikes and rallies. “There is a new challenge to make sure that virtual events aren’t just something for show and that they really are making an impactful contribution to fighting climate change,” Arce says.

Both Arce and Donahue say online educational resources have helped nurture the climate change movement, and activists are finding innovative ways to protest and engage communities.

Donahue, the hub coordinator for Sunrise LA Youth, a movement of young people under 35 who are lobbying policymakers, cites an attempted “virtual takeover” of the office of California Senator Diane Feinstein by activists who bombarded the Democratic lawmaker’s office with email and phone calls.

The goal was to press Feinstein to support the Green New Deal, a proposed package of U.S. legislation that aims to address climate change and economic inequality.

“We’re not ready to just play by the rules anymore,” Donahue says, explaining that Sunrise advocates social disobedience. “We’re going to disrupt, and that was the idea of the office takeover. We have to disrupt business as usual and really change the narrative because they’re not listening.”

Will activists be even more committed after COVID-19?

Donahue hopes that when the pandemic wanes and life begins to get back to normal, activists will have renewed energy to participate and appreciate the opportunity to gather in person.

“What I am hoping is that once things more or less return back to normal, people are going to be able to engage in physical activism, maybe on an even deeper level than before,” Donahue says. “Maybe they’ll appreciate it even more and turn out in bigger numbers because they are just so excited to be there.”

The Thacher School is one of 19 News Decoder partner schools in 14 countries. For more work by Thacher students on News Decoder, click here.

The Kids Are Alright is produced with News Decoder partner Charlie Duffield edited this episode.


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Tendayi Chirawu is News Decoder’s Communications and School Engagement Manager. A citizen of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Namibia, she has a masters degree in Global Communication & Civil Society from the American University of Paris. She joined News Decoder in July and has experience working for non-profit and for-profit organizations in Africa, Asia and Europe. Chirawu is a published author and has written for international news publications.

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