Ask a Genius: How this 17-year-old activist is fighting climate change

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Ask a Genius: How this 17-year-old activist is fighting climate change

Jamie Margolin is only 17 years old, but her resume is already chock full of accomplishments.

The climate change activist formed her own organization Zero Hour, which provides training and resources for other young activists. She has written for numerous publications about climate change, and is writing her first book, slated to publish in 2020.

We spoke with Margolin about her passion for the environment, achievements and what she would do with $1 billion.

Our conversation with Jamie Margolin is the latest edition of Ask a Genius, our regular series of talks with brilliant people. This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.

How did you get so passionate about the environment?

I really got started because of existential dread. The climate crisis has always been terrifying for me and my future as a young person.

People often ask me, “When was the exact moment that you remember being a climate activist?” I don't really have an exact moment because that's just kind of something that's always been looming over me.

I heard about it everywhere. It just became something that was pervasive in my life. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, there's a lot of national beauty everywhere. Seeing that natural beauty and then seeing the way it's deteriorating is scary. Our oceans are acidifying, the farms are dying. It’s really scary. I kind of fell into a bit of a depression, I had really bad climate anxiety and really bad fear of what was happening in the world.

How did you start getting involved?

After a while I was just kind of done with feeling hopeless and feeling like my generation just had to sit there and take the horrible future that was being left for us. So I joined a local environmental organization called Plant for the Planet. Then in the summer of 2017, I was starting to get fed up with the fact that nothing was happening.

We were doing so much work and no one was paying attention to us. It was just crickets. So I decided there needs to be something bigger. This was around the same time President Trump pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord and around the same time of Hurricane Maria.

I posted on my social media that I was going to start a youth climate march. A bunch of young people decided to join me. That group would turn into the nonprofit Zero Hour. And now we’ve led new climate marches in 25 cities around the world, which laid the groundwork for a lot of the work we do today.

What is Zero Hour’s mission? What does it cost to run the business?

We really want to get to the root of the system of oppression that caused climate crisis in the first place. Our message is of urgency — we have no more time. I can't understand how it could not be important. We're literally trying to save life on Earth as we know it and it's urgent. How could you not care like anything other than taking urgent action?

Right now I am working on organization emails, conference calls, one-on-one calls, organizing events, putting things together and fundraising. It's like I'm running a business that doesn't make money. I’m like the CEO on top of being a high school student on top of working on a book. I am also working on applying to colleges and occasionally having a life.

We do a lot of grant applications and crowdfunding. Just everyday donations, everyday donors, monthly donors.

What would you do with a $1 billion?

With $1 billion, I would buy up the entire Amazon rainforest and make it so no corporations could harm it. I would get the legal rights to it. I don't know how it works, but to make it so that the indigenous folks can legally own it, and take care of it.

If I had any leftover money after, I think I would buy other land, specifically areas with important natural wildlife. I would give it to whatever indigenous folks happen to live on that land. I know that there are definitely reservations that are kind of that already, but I think there should be more indigenous ownership because they're the original caretakers of the land. I would like to make it so no corporation can trespass and cause damage.

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What's one thing you want to accomplish in the next month? The next year?

In the next month, I want to finish all my college applications and get my grades up. I want to finish all edits on my manuscript, my book. That's going to come out in 2020.

In the next year, Zero Hour has some big campaigns on climate change, so I want to organize to get these mobilized for the 2020 election. I'd like to have gotten into my dream college and maybe you just have had some fun times in between all of that.

Who would you consider a genius & if you had to ask them anything, what would you ask them?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. If I had to ask her anything I'd ask her, “How would you do it? How do you stay on top of everything and still have time for your life?”

I see her Instagram live videos and she's cooking and taking care of herself. But then she's also running the world and toppling the patriarchy and revolutionizing politics. And I'm just like, how do you exist? I love you so much.

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Image: Nastia Kobzarenko