On Monday, June 29, two prominent voices of the environmental movement will address a United Nations General Assembly event on climate change to galvanize international momentum ahead of the Paris climate conference. One is actor and longtime conservationist Robert Redford, who has served on NRDC’s board of trustees since 1975 (disclosure). The other is 15-year-old climate activist Xiuhtezcatl Roske-Martinez, who is already a seasoned environmental campaigner in his own right.
As youth director of the nonprofit Earth Guardians, Roske-Martinez is committed to ensuring that his peers—and other underserved groups—don’t end up paying the high price of leaders’ inaction. “Youth feel powerless, youth feel like they’re not going to matter, and they’re not going to do anything important for the world until they’re adults,” he says. “I want to represent every voice that is silenced on this planet.” Dubbed the “anti-Bieber,” Roske-Martinez rallies supporters of every age and creed through school presentations, his unique brand of eco hip-hop, and heartfelt speeches.
Raised in the Aztec tradition, Roske-Martinez developed a strong connection to the natural world early on and began passionately defending it at a time of life when most children are learning to read. He emerged as a leader for the youth climate movement at the tender age of six, after watching Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary The 11th Hour. (DiCaprio is also an NRDC trustee.) The film’s depiction of the state of the environment, he says, made him cry inconsolably for six hours. “I didn’t feel like I could not do something about it,” Roske-Martinez says. He told his mom he planned to do everything in his power to make a change, stepped onto the stage at a climate rally, and never looked back.
(If that doesn’t make you want to save the world, see a doctor about your heart of stone.)
Now, at 15, his résumé tells the story of a person who has spent 60 percent of his life tirelessly advocating for change at local and global scales. In his hometown of Boulder, Colorado, his work has helped ban pesticides in public parks, introduce a fee on plastic bags, and enact a moratorium on fracking. In 2012, he was one of the youngest speakers at the RIO+20 U.N. Summit in Rio de Janeiro, and in 2013 he won a Presidential Volunteer of the Year Award.
Public speaking may be old hat for Roske-Martinez by now, but his upcoming address at the U.N.—for which he was selected from 200 applicants—is one of his proudest accomplishments to date. “I have an opportunity to use my voice, to use my passions, to raise awareness—and to talk to a really freakin’ huge audience,” he says.
On Monday, Roske-Martinez hopes to inspire representatives to believe that there are solutions for a better world. “This generation gets to decide what kind of world future generations will live in forever,” he says. “I believe we have the power to turn things around. It’s really our responsibility.”
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