GRAND RAPIDS, Mich — Siena Ramirez and Hannah Huggett are both fifteen years old. Neither can vote or posses a driver's license, but that's not stopping either from fighting for their futures.
Ramirez: 'It doesn't matter how you look at it, all of the issues are interconnected'
Ramirez said she got involved with immigration rights back when she was in sixth grade. Now, she is a sophomore at Northview High School in Grand Rapids.
She is proud of her Mexican heritage, and recalled President Donald Trump's disparaging remarks during his first presidential campaign, calling Mexicans drug dealers, criminals, and rapists. Her advocacy for immigrant rights changed focus to climate refugees and the broader issue of the climate crisis.
"I never really saw climate change as an issue of its own," Ramirez explained. "It's interconnected with every other issue there is."
Huggett, a sophomore at Black River High School in Holland, remembers learning about the changing climate in second grade.
"It's something I immediately took steps to become actionable about, however, those steps were what has conventionally been taught," she explained. "After awhile, you realize that the daily habit changes you can make aren't enough."
Huggett: 'We can no longer tolerate the question of if climate change is real or not'
Both Ramirez and Huggett agree that personal reduction is not enough to reduce carbon emissions. Rather, they feel laws need to be put in place to decrease emissions.
"Personal reduction doesn't do as much as holding corporations and the government accountable," Ramirez said. "If we held them accountable versus using a metal straw, that would do a lot more."
Pointing to the 2018 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Huggett stressed the need to act now.
"We only have ten years for the entire industrialized world to cut our carbon emissions in half. And even if we do that, it's only a 50% chance that we'll succeed," Hugget said.
"One hundred corporations create 71 percent of the world's emissions," Ramirez added, pointing to a 2017 report from the non-profit group CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project).
Ramirez: 'Hopefully alive'
When asked where they see themselves in five to ten years, both Ramirez and Huggett turned somber.
"I'm so unsure because I don't know what it's [the world] will look like in five to ten years," answered Ramirez. "I hope that I will maybe go to college for political theory or go for environmental science, but I don't really know."
Huggett expressed similar hopes.
"My ultimate goal would be to become a human rights lawyer," said Huggett. "In more of the near future, so in five years, I would say I am thinking about taking a gap year off to get really involved as much as I can in this area and possibly on the state level, too."
Ramirez: 'If you continue to sit down when you should be standing up and fighting, we're not going to have a future'
"People were so inspired," Huggett explained. "I think community is so integral in developing the initiative to take on different projects."
Holland community leaders welcomed Huggett's idea to include recycling options during the Tulip Time 5k Run in 2019. "We diverted so many pounds from the landfill," she said. "And it's what led me further into activism and organizing such as creating a composting program at my school."
Once their communities were listening, both young women hoped to keep the momentum for climate action building.
But the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to their plans.
Huggett hopes to reengage the Holland community once restrictions for gatherings loosen.
Ramirez, now the leader of the Grand Rapids' hub of the Sunrise Movement, a youth-like coalition devoted to mitigating the climate crisis, said ignoring climate issues would be a mistake.
Huggett: 'Get out and vote for me'
Huggett says the most important thing to do right now is to vote.
"Get out and vote for me, get out and vote for your grandkids," said Huggett. "It's so important."
"I think it's more important to be allies with the generations before us than to say, 'you made mistakes,'" said Ramirez. "If we held the government and the corporations accountable together, we'd have so much more power."
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