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‘We have so much to lose’: Realities of climate change have galvanized these Massachusetts teens to fight for their future

“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Minnah Sheikh of Revere. “But the best thing to do when you’re frustrated is take action.”David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

The planet is getting warmer, and the window to avert the worst of climate change is getting smaller.

And after a new United Nations report that presented the magnitude of the crisis in alarming terms, young people, who stand to inherit a hot planet from their elders are increasingly calling for action on a broad scale. They hope the grim assessment, described as a “code red for humanity,” will galvanize public support for renewable energy and weaning off fossil fuels.

Youth have led ardent efforts to address climate change in recent years. The Sunrise Movement, for example — a self-described “army of young people” that advocates for progressive climate policy — has gone to work for political candidates such as Senator Ed Markey and Boston city councilor and mayoral candidate Michelle Wu.


This week, the Globe spoke with a number of high school students, from climate activists to ordinary teenagers who are deeply concerned about the world they will inherit, to discuss the fight against global warming and their generation’s future.

Xyra Mercer, 17, Roxbury

Climate change is not an abstraction for Xyra Mercer: it’s a part of life as she knows it.

She sees climate change when she gazes at a hazy cityscape on what should be a clear day. She hears about it when severe weather batters her mother’s native Jamaica more frequently. And she has felt it during this summer of extremes, as the weather flips between heat waves and powerful rainstorms.

“We’ve seen the way our climate has impacted the Earth,” she said. “It’s kind of hidden, but it’s also right there.”

The student representative for the Boston School Committee, Mercer said climate issues intersect with other problems, such as racial injustice. A warming climate and increased air pollution disproportionately affect people of color.


When she thinks about her future, it’s hard to look past climate change.

“When I get older and have kids, climate change is going to impact them,” she said. “But you have to keep on striving, keep on pushing to keep your community, and keep your family, better.”

But young people have to act swiftly, she said.

“We still have so much of our lives ahead of us, and it’s like, we have to do something about it now,” she said. “Because if not, when are we going to do something about it?”

Calla Walsh, 17, Cambridge

At 17, Calla Walsh is already a force in the world of climate activism. A leader of the “Markeyverse” movement that helped Markey win reelection, Walsh has amassed nearly 16,000 followers on Twitter, been profiled in The New York Times, and called on fellow Gen Zers to become Democratic Socialists in Teen Vogue.

Walsh’s political involvement stems from her beliefs that the climate change crisis can only be allayed if policymakers make drastic changes to the status quo.

“The solutions are right in front of us,” she said. “It’s really just a matter of political courage.”

Walsh is a striking example of the influence youth can exert over environmental policy. Still, young people must go beyond traditional political organizing and put pressure on officials once they are in power, she said.

“Voting is not going to stop the climate crisis,” Walsh said. “I don’t think we can just give up after Election Day and not hold the people we elect accountable.”


Recruiting her peers to the cause requires overcoming the sense of hopelessness that forecasts like the UN report can bring about, Walsh said. But the prevailing sentiment she encounters among young people is hope.

“I believe that every person on this earth is worth organizing for,” she said. “I’m not ready to just give up on that.”

Calla Walsh, 17, of Cambridge.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Jasmine Ni, 17, Sharon

For weeks, Jasmine Ni anxiously awaited the climate change report. Nervous about its findings , she Googled “key findings of upcoming IPCC report,” hoping for a preview. But when it arrived on Monday, her first thought was, “we knew this.”

“You just have to look out the window or look at the headlines all summer, and you’ll realize that the magnitude, and how dire this climate emergency really is, can be seen in the world that we live in,” Ni said.

When Ni was in the sixth grade, her family moved from New London, N.H., to Sharon. The sharp change in landscape gave her an appreciation of how all types of communities are impacted by climate change.

“New London’s economy is dependent on tourism and people coming in the winter to ski or the summer for the lakes,” Ni said. “When these kinds of patterns are disrupted by climate change, economies and communities suffer.”

Climate change affects her home near Boston in different ways; the threat from rising sea levels, for example, is forcing nearby communities to plan for disaster.


Ni has been a volunteer for the Sunrise Movement for two years and has participated in climate demonstrations. And, while too young to vote, Ni said there are many ways teens her age can help bring about a greener future, such as phone banking and writing letters to political leaders.

“Politicians shouldn’t need cold, hard data and facts to push them towards legislative action, because they can see climate change in their districts right now,” Ni said.

Kaveesh Pathak, 17, Lexington

Kaveesh Pathak, an incoming junior at Lexington High School, remembers how nervous his typically calm father was in 2017 when Hurricane Harvey hit the coast of Texas, where his grandparents live. Since then, extreme weather such as hurricanes and wildfires have become only more frequent and intense, scientists say.

“There’s been no action done in a reasonable amount of time,” Pathak said. “‘I’m very frustrated and I’m scared about what’s going to happen with the climate.”

He was shocked by the report’s estimate that the world will cross the 1.5-degree Celsius threshold in 20 years, a decade earlier than previous projections.

“We are the key stakeholders because we have so much to lose,” Pathak said. “People have dreams, hopes, and so much more, and climate change affects all of that.”

“People have dreams, hopes, and so much more, and climate change affects all of that,” said Kaveesh Pathak of Lexington.Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff

Minnah Sheikh, 18, Revere

There are many ways to fight climate change, said Minnah Sheikh, a recent graduate of Revere High School. But to stave off a disastrous future, everyone must act.


“It’s really about working with your community and saying, ‘Hey, we have to do something.’ ”

For Sheikh, that has included a student-led effort to stop using plastic foam at her school. But small steps only go so far, a discouraging thought when she considers that the people best positioned to address the crisis won’t live to see its worst effects.

“It’s definitely frustrating,” she said. “But the best thing to do when you’re frustrated is take action.”

Willa Frank, 19, Cambridge

In 2020, a major drought damaged crops across New England. Then, all the rain at the beginning of this summer was bad for strawberries, said Willa Frank, a 19-year-old who has spent the year working on a farm in Lincoln.

“We still got lovely strawberries, but too much rain and inconsistent weather, you know it’s hard for the crop,” Frank said.

Frank says she hopes to see sweeping policy changes in response to the UN report but is far from optimistic.

“This report really makes me think, ‘How do we help people survive through it?’ ” Frank said. “I don’t have a huge hope that we can stop things.”

Finding climate change solutions is a priority for Frank, who plans to major in environmental studies at Pomona College when she enrolls this fall.

Frank understands the climate crisis is dire, but hopes the report can be a catalyst for change.

“Even with impending disaster we can still continue doing good work,” she said. “It should be a signal to have hope, now more than ever.”

Miranda Santiago, 17, Cambridge

Miranda Santiago was not always passionate about climate change.

But in high school, her biology classes featured discussions about the planet’s volatile response to rising temperatures. Learning about the science behind the issue “opened my eyes,” she recalled.

Now, as the creative team leader for the Sunrise Movement’s Cambridge chapter, Santiago develops the campaign’s strategy for raising awareness about environmental policy. That task has gotten easier as more of her peers take interest in the topic.

“Now it’s something cool that they can be a part of,” she said.

Still, climate advocacy can be draining work.

“The urgency of the situation we have right now is very stressful,” Santiago said.

Sometimes, she despairs over the planet’s future. But when activists feel dragged down by the weight of their goals, they help lift each other up, she said.

“If you’re working towards a joint cause to try and better the world, it’s important for everyone to be optimistic,” she said.

Kate Lusignan can be reached at