Youth Speak Out on Climate Crisis in Richmond
On September 25th, youth from across Richmond came together to share their perspectives and experiences growing up during the climate crisis in our city. The Listening Project team organized the Youth Listening Project (YLP) with the goal of listening to understand and empowering youth in our community to lead. As young people, we are often told to sit back and let the elders and adults lead, but many of those decision-makers have led us to an environmental reality of severe droughts, constant wildfires, and life-threatening air, water, and soil pollution in our communities. These environmental crises are mirrored with communal crises of inequities and public safety.
Decades of prioritizing profits over humanity has led us to this critical moment: are we going to continue down a path of destruction and instability or pivot to a transition that includes justice for all? We chose the latter and engaged with local youth, high school students, and college students to tell us their stories of how they experienced the climate crisis personally and how they see the future of Richmond. What we found reaffirmed our need for a reimagined future rooted in collective healing, holistic care, and justice for all.
Our youth organizers and leaders wanted to learn more about the complicated and intrinsic relationship between our communities and the environment. Attendees were invited to participate in specifically-themed focus groups: Climate, Public Health, and Education within the context of our environment.
Youth facilitators asked questions investigating community, intrapersonal, corporate,and government responsibility in the ongoing climate crisis—but all were rooted in the centering question of “What impact does the climate crisis in Richmond have on your life?” With this motivating our interviews, we began our inquiry and listened to powerful stories and testimonios that can shape how the RPA campaigns for a just transition in the future.
The following are powerful words from youth in the climate justice focus group:
We need to make a change [for] the climate. Only during quarantine, did we notice the need for change. We used less cars, which actually benefited the community.
I am afraid that people will leave Richmond to a city with better air and climate.
When asked about the presence of a pollutant refinery in Richmond, some attendees indicated they did not know what a refinery is or that we have a major one here in our city. This moment revealed an urgent need for community education around this topic.
One participant noted the refinery's impact on our immediate environment in Richmond:
I personally believe that Chevron has a negative effect on the climate because the oil spills, [the refinery] affects our water, the extreme heat [that can cause fires], and the pollution. Overall, I think it is one of the things that affects our climate the most.
From this listening project, we learned that not only is community education needed, but also more opportunities for youth leadership. Youth should be empowered to engage with our communities to learn how we have been affected by generations of the fossil fuel operations in Richmond—especially the community members who have been most harmed. We also learned that we need to meet youth where they are at, listen to them with open minds and hearts, honor their stories, and motivate them to take central roles within our community.
In the future, we hope to host more community-centered listening sessions, starting with an Intergenerational Listening Project. Local organization Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) is co-sponsoring this effort and there will be more updates coming soon.
From the crumbling foundations
I am impatient
These failing systems
So deeply despised
Into what we need them to be
To a world that is just and free
Our leaders do not see
That we are on our knees
Begging for air
So we can just breathe
This is the Time, performed September 25th, 2021 at the Youth Listening Project
Aniya Butler, Youth vs Apocalypse Organizer and Poet