Inspiring young people to change the world

Since she was very little, Raven Maeder would enthusiastically join her environmentally-minded parents at marches and other activist events they’d organised in her home town of Nelson.

But even back then she wondered why there were so few other children in attendance, and noticed that young people’s voices were often left out of discussions about things like climate change or politics—issues that fundamentally affected their future. So Raven made it her mission to change that.

Raven, who’s studying law and environmental science in a conjoint degree at Victoria University of Wellington, is one of the national organisers of New Zealand’s School Strike 4 Climate campaign which organised the 27 September event. It’s part of a global movement of young people who are striking from school to send a message to politicians to treat climate change as a crisis.

The first School Strike 4 Climate event in March this year, which Raven and Sophie Handford helped to coordinate, saw about 20,000 school pupils across the country take part in public protests.

“It was a much bigger turn out than we expected—it was incredible,” says Raven. “I’m so inspired by these young people—and some are as young as 12 years old. They’re so committed to learning and listening—it’s a privilege to work with them. You can see the collective power people have when they come together.”

Raven says her motivation to get involved with the School Strike movement goes back to her experiences as a young child attending activist events.

“I’d often be the youngest person at these things, and I could never understand why there weren’t other school kids there,” she says. “That has driven me to try and get other young people involved in this awesome movement—it’s their futures that depend on something being done about climate change.

“I really wish School Strike 4 Climate had been around when I was at school—I sometimes used to feel really alone in caring about the environment as much as I do, so to have this kind of support and to be part of such a massive movement would have been amazing. But I’m glad I can be involved now, though.”

Raven says her knowledge of how bad the impact of climate change will be weighs heavily on her at times. “It’s very overwhelming that we have known that climate change poses an existential threat to life on earth for over 50 years, and even with millions of young people and communities across the world demanding action, we are still heading in the complete wrong direction.”

Raven also notes that indigenous peoples have struggled for self-determination and their right to protect the earth, for hundreds of years. “So School Strike 4 Climate is not new. We’re learning how to take leadership from the centuries of resistance that have gone before.”

“It’s become more important than ever to take action, because the current situation is terrifying—the Amazon is burning, our Pacific neighbours are facing the loss of their homes, culture and livelihoods as the ocean rises to their doorsteps, and we’re still debating the ‘cost to our economy’ of making the necessary changes to avoid a climate disaster,” she says “But no matter how much energy we put into it we are barely seeing any break in that downwards trajectory.

“It keeps me awake at night and it can really get me down. There’s not any young person I know that isn’t scared about this—it’s actually quite distressing, especially when you look at the political leadership in some of the world’s biggest and most powerful countries.”

Raven says even though the issue of climate change sometimes seems too big to fix, she has not given up hope. “We need to hold onto that hope because giving up isn’t going to achieve anything. I do really believe we still have time and we have everything we need right now to turn this around—we just need the political will and leadership to do it,” she says.

“I know that in the big scheme of things New Zealand’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is comparatively low, but we can do our bit and provide leadership, because we know that creates change on a global level, and because we have a responsibility to do everything we can.

“No matter what, building a supportive movement that unites people across age, gender, race and culture will be the best way to win the battle—community-building is about the best thing we can do in the face of climate change.”

She says that while she’s made personal sacrifices in order to dedicate herself to the climate change fight, she wouldn’t have it any other way. “I’m really grateful and I know I’m very privileged to be in a position to think about these issues—I’m not just having to focus on my day-to-day survival, so I think that means I have a real responsibility to use that privilege to resist and help dismantle the systems that are hurting people and our planet right now because I know something better is possible.”

Raven says even though it’d be easy to become paralysed with fear in the face of climate change, she’s trying to channel that emotion and turn it into something positive.

“I’m definitely really inspired seeing the leadership being taken by young people on so many issues, especially climate change,” she says. “It’s revolutionary to see so many young people standing up for this land that we all depend on for survival in so many different ways—it really has the potential to change things.”