Youth Climate Activist Jamie Margolin on Why We’re Caught in a Climate Emergency

In honor of Rolling Stone’s Climate Crisis issue, we asked artists to contribute messages about what they, their governments, and everyday people can do to stand up to the threat of climate change. From England to Jamaica to the United States, we are hearing from artists and activists around the world about what we can do locally, globally, and everything in between.

Between founding a youth climate coalition, organizing a national climate march, writing a book, and going to high school, 18-year-old Jamie Margolin’s schedule is pretty packed. “What am I doing to address climate change?” asks Margolin. “Girl, what am I not doing to address climate change is the real question.”

The engaged teenager started working on issues surrounding the climate crisis when she was a freshmen in high school in Seattle. She testified on and lobbied for legislation at the city and state levels, gave speeches, and organized and attended events.

“Then after about a little over a year of doing this, I was growingly frustrated that the work I was doing locally was not enough; people were not taking enough action,” Margolin explains. She took to social media and started an organization called Zero Hour to put together a youth climate march in Washington, D.C., and around the world, which took place on July 21, 2018.

According to Margolin, governments should be treating the climate crisis as an emergency of the same importance as COVID-19. “I’m not saying that they’re acting perfectly, because a lot of governments, including the United States government, have been making a lot of mistakes in the handling of it. But the general idea of the way that they’re treating the coronavirus — with that urgency, that, ‘Oh, my god, this is an emergency, we need to act!’ — that’s how they need to be treating the climate crisis.”

She points to fossil-fuel divestment, lowering emissions, reforestation, protecting wildlife, investing in renewable energy, and investing in and listening to communities of color and low-income and indigenous people as all much-needed solutions.

For individuals to feel empowered, Margolin implores others to focus on systemic change over individual change. “We can’t blame someone for using a plastic utensil if that’s all they have,” says Margolin. “We’re not in this climate crisis because a couple of individuals were irresponsible. We’re in this climate crisis because there has been mass systematic oppression, capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and racism. All of these systems have been pushing people down for so long, and communities are suffering.”