Episode 57: Youth vs. Climate Change (Transcript)
Nahanni Rous: Hi, it’s Nahanni Rous. Welcome back to Can We Talk?, the podcast of the Jewish Women’s Archive, where gender, history, and Jewish culture meet.
Isha Clarke: We need to completely change the way that we live in this world, and that’s what climate justice is about. That’s what fighting against climate change has to be about.
Noa Gordon-Guterman: People need to be having conversations with the older people in their lives about their deep, like existential fears about the climate ending. Because like the are the people, like these are the people that created this world for us. Like, they're the ones that in so many ways have been intentional about creating this world. And in so many ways, like have, have contributed to creating a world that is not going to be inhabitable to like our children.
Tali Deaner: I definitely feel sad and scared with all the things... You know, the fires in California and all the crazy weather in Texas, Covid. This is kind of a scary world to be like a teenager, trying to figure it out in, but it makes me feel a lot better to be trying to do something about it.
Nahanni: Earlier this year, dozens of Jewish climate organizations gathered for the Big Bold Jewish Climate Fest. The weeklong virtual gathering included over a hundred-fifty sessions on topics from political advocacy, education, food sustainability, and even a Zoom visit with goats. During the conference, I heard a panel of inspiring young activists—all of them young women. I later caught up with three of them to talk about how they got involved, how their identities influence their activism, and what inspires them to keep at it.
[Theme music fades]
Noa: So I’m Noa Gordon-Guterman, I am currently an Avodah service Corps member in DC and I, through my service corps, have been placed at Interfaith Power and Light and have been focused particularly on organizing around climate and specifically like environmental justice in the Jewish community.
Isha: My name is Isha Clark. I am 18, and I'm from Oakland, California. I am an activist and co-founder of Youth vs. Apocalypse, which is, um, a frontline youth-led climate justice organization based in the Bay area. My work and... my life is dedicated to fighting for collective liberation so that we can all live in a world where we can really thrive.
Tali: I'm Tali Deaner. I'm a high school student from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I'm a part of Jewish Youth Climate Movement and Sunrise Movement.
[Sunny music plays]
Tali: My basis for like social justice and realizing that climate is something that I needed to be a part of came from my Jewish summer camp, I kind of have been taught since I was really young that as Jewish people it’s our obligation to you know tzedek tzedek tirdof, to be involved in social justice. What’s so compelling about climate justice is not necessarily the Earth, it’s the people living on it.
Noa: I grew up like very deeply in the Jewish community. I went to Jewish summer camp and Jewish high school and Jewish day school my whole life actually. I don't think that I gained really much of like a climate consciousness in my Jewish spaces. And actually, like, that's something that irks me frequently. And I think that I had a really hard time, like accessing and feeling like connected to climate. It was kind of framed as science heavy or like not centering humans. I think I really became interested in climate and like started to kind of feel more urgency around the climate crisis through the medium of like food access and like the food systems.
Tali: I live in the Midwest in like a very homogenous Dutch area. I'm like one of the few Jewish kids in my school, and so like, I think because of that, and also just, you know, middle school conformity, like I really spent a lot of time, like trying not to stick up, trying to just blend in. But I recently, I kind of realized like the common denominator of all the people that I've seen, like sticking up for what's right is the Jewish women in my life. So like my mom, my camp counselors, you know, my aunts... they're... Jewish women are really powerful and really show up for what is important to them.
Isha: I never really felt connected to anything that was climate or environment related because it was always presented to me as something that was very white and that you had to have, you know, a lot of privilege to care about. The climate movement was, you know, really talked about as saving the rainforest and the polar bears and, you know, really neglecting to talk about the truth of climate change, which is that it is a result of our foundational systems of oppression. Because all of those systems of oppression at their root are about exploiting people, are about exploiting the planet, because we see those people as less than, as disposable. I am Black and Jewish. I just have like [chuckles] genocide and enslavement on, on both sides of my family and in, and in those stories, it is always a story that should be framed as a story of resilience and uprising and activism, you know? And I feel very connected to that ancestral identity.
Noa: I think actually in particular, in like urban Jewish communities, you know I’m from New York City, so something that I experienced a lot was like, we enter nature to like, be connected spiritually. My family would sometimes go to “the country” as we’d call it, and the country was very different from the city, um, and to me that conception of just going to nature when you need it feels a little bit negligent of the cycles that we’re part of. It feels to me almost part of this larger issue of how capitalism has made us extractive as opposed to in tandem with and as part of like the interconnected web of things.
Isha: So my start was in environmental justice. I was invited to this action that was targeting Phil Tagami, who is a very prominent developer in Oakland and who was, in 2017, and still is now, trying to build a coal terminal through West Oakland. And West Oakland is a community that is predominantly Black working class people. And, you know, I live right, right, right outside of West Oakland. And so that coal terminal would be like two and a half miles away from my house. I, at that action, realized what environmental racism is and how you know, these people who are making billions of dollars from the fossil fuel industry are carrying out the actions of their business by polluting poor people and people of color and, you know, Indigenous people. And so that brought me into the movement through that fight. And me and you know a bunch of other frontline middle and high school students created this campaign called Youth vs. Coal, and so far we’ve been able to keep it out.
Isha: Last year before Corona, I used to do these presentations for Youth vs. Apocalypse, in classrooms. So in the beginning, we'd say like, "raise your hand if you feel like your life has been impacted by climate change." And pretty much no one would raise their hand. And then we'd go through this set of activities and we'd say, okay, raise your hand if you breathe smoke from the wildfires. Everyone's hand goes up. Raise your hand if you or someone close to you has asthma. Pretty much everyone’s hand would go up. Everyone is being impacted by climate change, and not realizing it.
Tali: Lots of things are getting worse. But I think we talk about like, in a lot of movements that I'm a part of like, how do we, how do we take emotions of fear and anger and, you know, scaredness... if people can get involved and take action, then they start to feel hopeful and they start to feel solidarity, and like excited. [Music] Something I was thinking about recently is like, a few decades ago, girls could not have bat mitzvahs, you know, in a lot of parts of Jewish life, but like, we kind of figure that out like, "Oh, okay, like, let's change it. Let's do it." Um, and that's the kind of vision that I see with climate justice and Jewish spaces. Like we we've done we've we've made big changes before we can keep doing it.
Tali: I think like, sometimes it's not their fault, but sometimes older generations feel a little bit like hopeless or apathetic, because like, they've been... so many things have gone wrong for so long, like in all areas of social justice, right? People have tried before, really hard, but it just didn't really work. And so I think like young people, we don't quite have as much of the same, like personal hurt yet. Um, but like, we kind of have that fresh perspective of like, instead of wallowing in how sad it is or how much work there is left to do, like let's get started or like let's stop just reading books and really do things.
Isha: We are living through this unique moment in history and what we're experiencing is this both societal and climate breakdown. And because of that, we have this unique opportunity to actually dismantle those systems and build something new because it's going to have to happen regardless. But do we pull it out and lay back down the same foundation or do we pull it out and we lay a new foundation that is about justice and equity and true sustainability?
Noa: We don’t want to exist, we want to thrive and create a better world. The important thing is like trusting young people, trusting in a way that feels a little bit counter to the way that in the past, we have trusted tradition, this like asks us to trust something that like isn't already written down for us.
Tali: If we look at history, people are so powerful. There's a social science statistic that's like if 3.5 percent of people are like really taking action for a social movement, like really involved, then it always wins. Like that's not a huge amount. If we all jump in and start working, then we can make things happen.
Isha: Angela Davis has this quote where she says, “You have to act as if it is possible to radically transform the world, and you have to do it all the time.” And I think that is something that I always, always am trying to remind myself, like each day re-grounding myself in that. That we have to believe that we can radically transform the world, that we can be in a completely different world in our lifetime. Because if we don't, then it will never happen. And I think that that is something that my ancestors have always done. And so, I ground myself in that and know that I have that blood, I have that DNA of uprising and I'm going to use it in this lifetime.
Nahanni: Isha Clarke is an activist with Youth vs. Coal and Youth vs. the Apocalypse; Noa Gordon-Guterman is an Avodah Service Corps member working with Interfaith Power and Light in Washington DC; and Tali Deaner is the campaigns director at Jewish Youth Climate Movement. Thank you for listening to Can We Talk?, the podcast of the Jewish Women’s Archive. This episode was produced by Ariella Markowitz, we had help from Asal Ehsanipour. Our team also includes Judith Rosenbaum and Becky Long. Our theme music is by Girls in Trouble. You also heard "Greener Grass," "Calming Storms," "New Generation," and "Without You" by Ketsa. Find us online at jwa.org/canwetalk, and anywhere you get your podcasts. I’m your host, Nahanni Rous. Happy Earth Day.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Episode 57: Youth vs. Climate Change (Transcript)." (Viewed on May 18, 2021) <https://jwa.org/podcasts/canwetalk/episode-57-youth-vs-climate-change/transcript>.