Jamie Margolin Is Changing the Way We Talk About the Climate Crisis

On Friday waves of protests rippled across the United Kingdom as young people called for action to address climate change. This movement emerged just one month after a global youth strike in which more than a million students took to the streets to demand that society drastically improve the way it responds to the global climate crisis.

It takes many organizers to make a movement, and climate activism has a storied history, but these recent events can be linked back to a teenager in Seattle, Washington. Seventeen-year-old Jamie Margolin is a junior in high school who enjoys reading, drawing, and writing. She also spends five to six hours a day specifically working to combat the worsening climate crisis.

Those hours, she tells Inverse, are spent on conference calls, emails, writing, fundraising, social media, and working on a documentary — all piled on top of going to school, doing homework, and having a personal life. Margolin is the founder of and co-executive director of Zero Hour, a youth- and women of color-led organization dedicated to intersectional climate activism.

Greta Thunberg — the Swedish teen whose own climate strike motivated millions of others to do the same — told Margolin that Zero Hour’s work had helped inspire her to take a stand. Margolin, for her part, was moved to action by the indigenous youths who led the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock.

Margolin founded Zero Hour when she was 15 after processing two disheartening events. One was the destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria, the Category 5 hurricane that devastated Puerto Rico. The other was experiencing the struggle it took to breathe in Seattle after the city was covered in smoke from Canadian wildfires. The Washington native, already a community organizer, said enough is enough.

“Watching the incredibly racist nonresponse toward Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria — which was clearly a climate crisis yet the media acted like it wasn’t climate caused — and literally not being able to breathe clean air for two weeks were the catalysts,” Margolin says.

She rallied friends and launched Zero Hour in the summer of 2017. By the next summer, they organized a national event in Washington, D.C. Over the course of three days in July 2018, Zero Hour lobbied Congress members to urge them to refuse money from fossil fuel companies, hosted a youth art festival, and led a march through the nation’s capital. At the same time over 25 sister marches took place around the world — with teenagers in London, Kenya, and Las Vegas making the same demand: Their governments needed to address the roots of climate change and take immediate action.

Climate change, Margolin argues, needs to be attacked fiercely at all angles.

“Yes we have to be protesting and lobbying,” she points out. “But we also have to be organizing in our communities; doing education work. We have to be addressing the issue in the courts. We can’t pretend like we have the luxury of choosing one solution.”

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