How this youth climate activist is turning up the pressure on fossil fuel industries

Inflection Point talks to Isha Clarke, a 16-year-old working to get the Green New Deal passed

Published March 8, 2020 1:59PM (EDT)

Teenage Climate Crisis activists from various climate activism groups protesting. (Ollie Millington/Getty Images)
Teenage Climate Crisis activists from various climate activism groups protesting. (Ollie Millington/Getty Images)

In February of 2019, around the time Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez introduced the framework of the Green New Deal to the Senate, a video of youth activists confronting Senator Dianne Feinstein went viral

Maybe you remember it: a small group of kids ages 7 through 16 present Feinstein with a poster-sized, handwritten letter asking her to support the Green New Deal. She rebuffs them by reminding the group that she's been doing her job for 30 years, that she just won an election with millions of votes, and that she knows what she's doing. 

One of the older kids, a sixteen-year-old girl with curly hair and a tan shirt steps forward.

"We're facing mass extinction and the solution to that problem is gonna be pricey and ambitious and bold," she tells the Senator. "It's not going to be like anything that we've ever seen before because that's what we need to deal with, the magnitude of that issue. And so we're asking you to vote 'yes' on the Green New Deal." 

"That resolution will not pass the Senate," Feinstein interrupts. "And you can take that back to whoever sent you here."

That tall young woman who spoke truth to power so eloquently was Isha Clarke, and she, like many of her peers in today's world-changing wave of youth activism, sent herself there. 

"I've always just been wired to be extra and be an overachiever," Clarke told me in our recent conversation for Inflection Point. She says that her grandfather was an activist who burned his draft papers and occupied the Koch Brothers building, and that social justice was a constant topic of conversation at family dinners. 

"At Passover, we're talking about slavery and modern-day slavery and Trump and all these very different things that are always present in my family and in my way of thinking," Clark said. 

When she isn't confronting senators in the halls of power, Clarke is a high school student, dancer, and a member of Youth Vs. Apocalypse, a climate action group entirely run by young people. 

The vision of Youth Vs. Apocalypse?

"To save the world. That's it," Clark said. "To make sure that the new world that comes from that is sustainable and is just and is equitable and is filled or is run by solutions that are created by frontline communities or communities that have previously been on the front lines because there will be no more frontline communities in our new world."

So far, Clarke has helped grow Youth Vs. Apocalypse from a local action group demonstrating against the construction of a coal terminal in the Bay Area to a national platform pushing back against BlackRock, the world's largest investor in companies driving fossil fuel production and deforestation.

These kids aren't just talking about making change — they're making it.  

"The fossil fuel industry actually said that the number one threat to their way of doing business, which is poisoning the earth, is young people," Clarke told me. "Because we've been doing so much, making so much noise, putting so much pressure on them and companies like banks and insurance companies that are supporting them in their projects that we are making a statement and people are listening and I think they're trying to keep us out."

Pressure, Clarke believes, is the key to holding those in power accountable to the planet. 

"I think that pressure makes diamonds," she said. "A lot of what makes change is putting pressure on power holders because power holders only have power because of the people. We really have to always remember that and not feel disempowered."

To hear how Isha Clarke and her peers are pushing back against the perpetrators of climate change and how you can engage in meaningful environmental actions no matter your age, listen to our conversation here.

Get more stories of how women rise up on the "Inflection Point" podcast, support our production, and come on over to The Inflection Point Society, our Facebook group of everyday activists who seek to make extraordinary change through small, daily actions. 


By Lauren Schiller

Lauren Schiller is the creator and host of Inflection Point, a podcast and public radio show from KALW and PRX featuring stories of how women rise up. For more rising up stories, follow Lauren on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the podcast on Android or Apple.

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Climate Crisis Fossil Fuels Green New Deal Inflection Point Interview Isha Clarke Podcast