Let These Stunning Photos of a Year of Virtual Youth Climate Activism Inspire You

Credit to Author: Pamela Elizarraras Acitores| Date: Thu, 22 Apr 2021 11:25:53 GMT

Some of us may have been tucked safely inside during lockdown, but that does not mean the climate crisis has gone away (just look at the record wildfires, record storms, and record ice loss in 2020). Since the pandemic put the world on pause, youth climate activists have been gathering online. 

By projecting visuals of nature over the digital portraits of 21 youth climate activists from around the world, Mexican photojournalist and climate activist Pamela Elizarraras Acitores, or Pamela EA, 23, conveys what this past year has looked like for them: a confinement to their screens where they have been networking, organizing, and learning—mostly online. 

Each portrait has been paired with an environmental image that connects with the organizer’s work. Daniela Balaguera, for example, an environmental defender of La Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range in Colombia, asked to be represented with a forest image. Finlay Pringle, a shark ambassador in Ullapool, Scotland, wanted his photograph surrounded by water. 

Pamela EA spoke with the activists to find out how living through a pandemic has shifted their activism, what they want to see achieved in November at the UN climate change conference COP26, as well as their hopes and fears for the future. 

“Despite our grief, we are still optimistic. Our voices are more powerful than before,” she said. “The words the youth shared with me for this project reflect their optimism and agency. We need more of that at this moment.”

Interviews have been edited for length and clarity. Digital portraits were taken over Zoom calls in December 2020 and January 2021 on Pamela EA’s MacBook Pro.


Jefferson Estela, 23, Antipolo City, Philippines

Jefferson Estela, Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines, MockCop26 Participant. Projected Image: Entwined, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Jefferson Estela, Youth Strike 4 Climate Philippines, MockCop26 Participant. Projected Image: Entwined, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

It is difficult to be a climate activist in the Philippines. Numerous typhoons are ravishing us in the middle of a pandemic. The government is attacking activists. People are getting killed for fighting for climate justice. We don’t have any international coverage. We in the Global South don’t have the visibility white people have. 

Catalina Santelices, 18, Talca, Chile

Catalina Santelices, Fridays for Future Chile Organizer, Co-Founder Latinas for Climate. Projected Image: Midnight Sky, Uyuni, Bolivia, March 2019.

Catalina Santelices, Fridays for Future Chile Organizer, Co-Founder Latinas for Climate. Projected Image: Midnight Sky, Uyuni, Bolivia, March 2019.

It is not true that young people are not interested in anything. We are here, we are interested, and we want to change things. Change needs to happen now because by the time we are old enough to be in a position to make decisions, it will be too late.

Veronica Mulenga, 26, Lusaka, Zambia

Veronica Mulenga, Youth Climate Save Zambia Organizer. Projected Image: En en el Arroyo, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Veronica Mulenga, Youth Climate Save Zambia Organizer. Projected Image: En en el Arroyo, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

As a Black woman, racism is nothing new to my life. But after the death of George Floyd, it has definitely been easier to start up conversations about racism and incorporate them into my activism. Climate change and racial injustices are deeply intertwined.

Ayisha Siddiqa, 21, Jhang, Pakistan – New York, USA

Ayisha Siddiqa, Polluters Out Co-Founder, Re-Earth Initiative Co-Founder, Fossil Free University Organizer. Projected Image: En la Selva, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Ayisha Siddiqa, Polluters Out Co-Founder, Re-Earth Initiative Co-Founder, Fossil Free University Organizer. Projected Image: En la Selva, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

It’s unfortunate that it took an innocent man being choked to death and then years of frustration to build and burst open for white and apolitical Americans to realize that this country is built upon police violence. In New York, protest was revived and I saw solidarity—community—more than ever before. 

Talia Woodin, 21, London, UK

Talia Woodin, Extinction Rebellion Youth Coordinator. Projected Image: The Vine Embraced the Tree, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Talia Woodin, Extinction Rebellion Youth Coordinator. Projected Image: The Vine Embraced the Tree, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Black Lives Matter definitely caused a shift within the global climate justice movement and therefore impacted everyone’s activism, even if just by helping to shift the narrative and exposing much of the work that still needs doing. 

Arshak Makichyan, 26, Moscow, Russia

Arshak Makichyan, Fridays for Future Russia Coordinator. Projected Image: Dry Desert, Uyuni, Bolivia, March 2019.

Arshak Makichyan, Fridays for Future Russia Coordinator. Projected Image: Dry Desert, Uyuni, Bolivia, March 2019.

Now it’s more dangerous to protest in Russia. Before the pandemic it was more fun—we could organize strikes. Now we can’t because of the new laws. And it’s lonely again.

Kyuri Kim, 12, Seoul, South Korea

Kyuri Kim, Fridays for Future South Korea Organizer, MockCOP26 delegate. Projected Image: The Tarantula’s House, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Kyuri Kim, Fridays for Future South Korea Organizer, MockCOP26 delegate. Projected Image: The Tarantula’s House, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

I fear that when the pandemic is finally over, activists will just go back to acting locally and forget about the projects we did internationally.

Kevin Mtai, 24, Soy, Kenya

Kevin Mtai, MockCOP26 Event Coordinator, Earth Uprising Regional Coordinator, Co-Founder of KEAN network, Member of GCC. Projected Image: Las Estrellas del Pasado, Uyuni, Bolivia, March 2019.

Kevin Mtai, MockCOP26 Event Coordinator, Earth Uprising Regional Coordinator, Co-Founder of KEAN network, Member of GCC. Projected Image: Las Estrellas del Pasado, Uyuni, Bolivia, March 2019.

I hope to see our world leaders and policymakers listen to young activists because they’re the ones who usually strike on the streets.

Finlay Pringle, 13, Ullapool, Scotland

Finlay Pringle, Sea Shepherd and Ullapool Shark Ambassador. Projected Image: Flowing, Uyuni, Bolivia, March 2019.

Finlay Pringle, Sea Shepherd and Ullapool Shark Ambassador. Projected Image: Flowing, Uyuni, Bolivia, March 2019.

My biggest fear is that our governments don't act in the next 10 years, and we run out of time to protect our planet from the climate emergency.

Valentin Abend, 26, Mallorca, Spain

Valentin Abend, XR Universities Outreach Coordinator. Projected Image: Gotas del Árbol de Caucho, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Valentin Abend, XR Universities Outreach Coordinator. Projected Image: Gotas del Árbol de Caucho, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

My fear is that inaction will lead to the predicted scenarios of global warming, which will exacerbate the injustices that are already present: hostile border restrictions against climate refugees, environmental racism, food insecurity, income inequality, and increased frequency of pandemics, among other injustice.

Valentina Prada, 20, Bogotá, Colombia

Valentina Prada, Fridays for Future Organizer, Co-Founder Latinas for Climate. Projected Image: En el Arroyo de los Monos, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, March 2019.

Valentina Prada, Fridays for Future Organizer, Co-Founder Latinas for Climate. Projected Image: En el Arroyo de los Monos, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, March 2019.

I sometimes fear the possibility that governments keep ignoring us and that our work as activists becomes useless. 

Alejandro Vasquez, 19, Washington, D.C., USA

Alejandro Vasquez, Extinction Rebellion Youth USA Action Coordinator. Projected Image: Cempasúchil en el Cementerio, Oaxaca, Mexico, November 2018.

Alejandro Vasquez, Extinction Rebellion Youth USA Action Coordinator. Projected Image: Cempasúchil en el Cementerio, Oaxaca, Mexico, November 2018.

I have become more intentional about everything I do. Activism not only has to be big and captivating but also have a larger purpose or goal. If not we will never get anywhere. We need to stop the cloutavism culture that centres a few activists and leaves everyone else behind. 

Sofía Hernández, 22, San José, Costa Rica

Sofía Hernández, Re-Earth Initiative Co-Founder, Fridays For Future Organizer. Projected Image: En la Selva, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Sofía Hernández, Re-Earth Initiative Co-Founder, Fridays For Future Organizer. Projected Image: En la Selva, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Social and climate justice will not be achieved if we have the same people being amplified in international media.

Lara Rudar, 17, Dubai, UAE

Lara Rudar, UAE Ambassador for Nature, MockCOP26 Delegate. Projected Image: Ascendiendo, Puerto Escondido, Mexico, December 2020.

Lara Rudar, UAE Ambassador for Nature, MockCOP26 Delegate. Projected Image: Ascendiendo, Puerto Escondido, Mexico, December 2020.

Previous COP climate talks have failed in many aspects and I fear this year’s COP26 will be no different. Individual actions are important but system change is the path to a healthy and prosperous future.

Uriel Medina, 18, Colima, Mexico

Uriel Medina, #EscazuAhora Co-Founder, MockCOP26 Delegate, Founder Fridays for Future Colima, LCOY Mexico Organizer. Projected Image: La Punta, Puerto Escondido, Mexico, December 2020.

Uriel Medina, #EscazuAhora Co-Founder, MockCOP26 Delegate, Founder Fridays for Future Colima, LCOY Mexico Organizer. Projected Image: La Punta, Puerto Escondido, Mexico, December 2020.

I hope that by seeing all the mobilizing the youth around the world are doing, COP organizers understand that we don’t need three doctorates in climate mitigation to be worthy of having an impact on decisions that will affect our future. Youth participation is fundamental for fighting climate change.

Daniela Balaguera, 26, Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia

Daniela Balaguera, U4CA Organizer, Environmental Defender of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Unite for Climate Action Organizer. Projected Image: En la Selva, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Daniela Balaguera, U4CA Organizer, Environmental Defender of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Unite for Climate Action Organizer. Projected Image: En la Selva, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

There is a lot of discussion on who is privileged enough and appropriate to speak at these conferences. That person needs to be able to speak a foreign language fluently, which is a huge limitation; it’s a barrier that limits many people with genuine knowledge of the climate justice crisis.

Derrick K.E. Nyamedi, 23, Accra, Ghana

Derrick K.E. Nyamedi, Fridays for Future Accra Organizer, Climate Live Coordinator. Projected Image: Melting Glacier, Gobi Desert, Mongolia, August 2019.

Derrick K.E. Nyamedi, Fridays for Future Accra Organizer, Climate Live Coordinator. Projected Image: Melting Glacier, Gobi Desert, Mongolia, August 2019.

This upcoming COP, I am hoping there will be more solution-driven talks within world leaders and more commitments from them. We already have the solutions to climate change, but it is on them to implement these solutions.

Andrea Villareal, 20, Monterrey, Mexico

Andrea Villareal, Girl Up Campaign Regional Leader of Latinamerica and the Caribbean,  #EscazúAhora Mexico Co-Founder. Projected Image: La Guacamaya, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Andrea Villareal, Girl Up Campaign Regional Leader of Latinamerica and the Caribbean, #EscazúAhora Mexico Co-Founder. Projected Image: La Guacamaya, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

My hope is for youth activists to finally have a place at the table and directly influence climate policy in all levels of government. 

Vhon Michael Tobes, 17, Catbalogan City, Samar, Philippines

Vhon Michael Tobes, Award-Winning Queer Activist, Founder, and Director of Zero Hour SE Asia. Projected Image: En la Selva, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Vhon Michael Tobes, Award-Winning Queer Activist, Founder, and Director of Zero Hour SE Asia. Projected Image: En la Selva, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

My hope is for a world where people would be more critical of themselves and their decisions, of their friends and family, of their leaders, of their government, of the world around them. Change starts when we start challenging the status quo.

Theresa Rose Sebastian, 17, Kerala, India – Cork, Ireland

Theresa Rose Sebastian, Re-Earth Initiative Co-Founder. Projected Image: Agua Limpia, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Theresa Rose Sebastian, Re-Earth Initiative Co-Founder. Projected Image: Agua Limpia, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Climate activists from my home country, Indigenous women who have always fought, Dalit women and South Asian women who continue to fight… They push me to continue my work regardless of whether I see the fruit of my work in my lifetime or not. 

Tara Santos, 22, Manila, Philippines

Tara Santos, Extinction Rebellion Philippines National Coordinator. Projected Image: Inundación En Chajul, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

Tara Santos, Extinction Rebellion Philippines National Coordinator. Projected Image: Inundación En Chajul, Lacandon Jungle, Mexico, December 2020.

I hope that individuals will start to see how inextricable nature and society are from one another, and that we can’t take care of one without taking care of the other. 

Follow Pamela EA on Instagram.

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story. 

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