An Interview With Young Leaders Around The State

February 24, 2021

In a Zoom call Jan. 23, I was honored to interview some of the core team members from around the state in charge of the Confront the Climate Crisis Campaign. The campaign, which seeks to unite organizations across the state fighting for climate justice, was set in motion by West Lafayette Climate Strikes, a local student-led organization. It offers a powerful, unifying voice for young activists wanting to make a change. With a mission to better the future of our planet for the lives of the youth, members are extremely passionate about their cause. High school students, Annabel Prokopy from West Lafayette, Ethan Bledsoe from West Lafayette, Ethan Stoehr from Carmel and Josi Fisher from Alexandria share their thoughts and experiences as young activists leading the campaign.

What made you get involved? What inspired you to become a leader?

Annabel Prokopy:“Well, I know for me it was just seeing that there was no action in our community, and that is why we decided to start West Lafayette Climate Strikes — because there was literally nothing. That kind of stems into the campaign as well because there wasn’t a lot of action that was united on a state level, and we knew that we needed to put an end to that and start working for bigger action.”

Ethan Stoehr:“For me it was two years ago, I believe. I think it was just the traction that the Fridays For Future Movement gained, and I was like, ‘Okay, I want to do this too. I want to be involved in this.’ So, I just went down to the statehouse as many Fridays as I could and sat outside there with a sign. I think what motivated me would have been just like, every time you read about the climate crisis, it’s always worse than you think, and there’s always new information on how it affects every aspect of your life, other people’s lives, and the planet and its ecosystems. There’s no place that’s safe from it. Not to mention the opportunity that climate action brings with it. Like the purpose of the Green New Deal is to tackle climate change and environmental problems as well as societal problems. The ability that the climate crisis brings to promote clean transportation, racial justice, eco justice… I just think that’s really appealing as well.”

Photo provided by Sofia Alge.

For those who are unfamiliar with the subject, how will fighting climate change increase the livability of our planet?

Ethan Stoehr: “I mean, there’s plenty of ways. You have deforestation in a lot of places, especially in Africa, and you can’t grow crops then. I don’t know much about it, but I know it harms the inhabitants there and their way of life, so stopping that, for one, increases livability. Another big thing is air pollution, which causes a lot of asthma, deaths, diseases, and problems. By not having that [air pollution], we can improve air quality. Also taking cars off the road, which is [contributing to] the same thing. I think getting rid of a lot of the things that cause the climate crisis are also getting rid of those walls to increase the livability of our planet and making it healthier all around for humans, animals, and ecosystems.”

Ethan Bledsoe: “I would also say that if there were solutions to the climate crisis that were actually done, it would — for even the average person — get rid of the impending fear of death that’s coming soon. This is definitely not as serious as what Ethan just talked about, but I feel like anyone who is somewhat knowledgeable about the climate crisis has this fear like, ‘Wow, it’s coming and it’s coming soon,’ right? It would get rid of that fear, hopefully, which would also increase livability. It’s not as practical as what Ethan talked about, but I believe it still goes along with your question.”

Annabel Prokopy: “Yeah, and you know, we’re already seeing the effects of these more severe weather events that are caused by the climate crisis. A lot of developing countries [experience] severe droughts which are hurting crops and causing famine and starvation. A lot of these severe weather effects are only going to worsen, and unfortunately they will hurt the people who aren’t contributing to the climate crisis as much. This makes their lives much more unlivable, which is obviously not ideal. It makes it even more important to keep fighting against the climate crisis.”

Can you tell me about any moments you have had as a climate activist that remind you of why you became one?

Josi Fisher: “Whenever I see the news. I know a while back when the news was really highlighting the Amazon Rainforest and stuff like that, it really frustrated me. A lot of the time it’s when I see the news and what world leaders are doing for climate action, or when I hear about how nothing is being done. Even when somebody at school — I know this is maybe going to sound kind of lame or whatever — uses a plastic straw or throws away a plastic bottle, or I go to my friend’s house and they don’t recycle. Sometimes when I see those things it just reminds me that I’m doing this so we can live in a world where people don’t do that. When I go to some of these [climate crisis campaign] calls, and I learn more about what’s happening with the climate crisis and everything, or when I meet in group meetings and talk with other people, also in my environmental group, that just reminds me of why I’m doing this… . Also, I live in a really small town, and I feel like nobody knows anything about the climate crisis, so when I get the opportunity to tell somebody about it and educate someone about it, it’s like, ‘Okay, this why I’m doing this.’”

Photo provided by Sofia Alge.

Ethan Bledsoe: “I would also say I think as an activist, just seeing [the impact of] the campaign with the community. It’s just amazing to see, and that’s why I’ve been able to keep going. First, with West Lafayette Climate Strikes, we created a great community and we all became great friends and met with all types of people throughout West Lafayette. And then growing that statewide, I love to see what’s going on. Building connections with people and also being able to educate people is amazing. I would definitely emphasize the community. I think that’s the best part about being a climate activist for me.”

Why should we take action now and why is this situation so urgent? Why should we classify it as a crisis?

Josi Fisher: “Why I think it’s so important for us to take action now is mostly because we’re running out of time, and there’s only so much you can do in this small time span. Scientists have been telling us this information for years, and it’s just not getting through peoples’ brains. I think we need to take action now because we’re literally running out of time, and then there will be irreversible change that you can’t do anything about… . I don’t want to have humanity live in a world where — this is going to sound weird because we’re in a pandemic — wear a gas mask all the time or something like that.”

Ethan Bledsoe: “That’s why it’s called a crisis now and why we switched our terminology. Which one strikes you more: When you hear ‘climate crisis’ or ‘climate change’? Obviously, the climate change one wasn’t severe enough. That’s the terminology that we used to use but ever since we heard Greta [Thunberg] use it in one of her speeches when she said, ‘treat the climate crisis like a crisis,’ we started transitioning into calling it a climate crisis because that’s really what it is. It’s not just slight incremental changes. It’s massive. It’s going to change the world.”

Ethan Stoehr: “The pandemic can actually be traced back to some of the same causes of the climate crisis like deforestation and humanity invading places where they’re not supposed to go, which pushes animals closer to human habitats. Then diseases like COVID become more easily spreadable. And I believe this has been predicted for years — that there would be a zoonotic disease pandemic like we’re seeing now. I think that the predictions are that it’s only going to get worse if we don’t do anything and keep on the track that we’re on right now. I think that’s another reason to tackle it now and not wait anymore.”

Photo provided by Sofia Alge.

Annabel Prokopy: “To wrap up the point, change takes time. We need to treat it with fierce urgency because we know the political system is not efficient. It takes years to even pass legislation, and that legislation still has to be used to actually take action. So, we have to treat it with this urgency which is why we’re calling it an emergency and a crisis. That’s really how it needs to be handled in today’s system.”

How have you guys continued to push for change and educate during the pandemic?

Ethan Bledsoe: “For West Lafayette Climate Strikes, it was kind of difficult at first. We had these community education sessions and kid education sessions that we were really excited about that we were going to do in person at the library. So, it was really disappointing hearing that we couldn’t do any of that, and that we couldn’t do any in-person strikes either because we were so high off of the one on Sept. 27 in 2019. So, I think we did struggle at first, but then we came back with our unite behind the science video that went really well. We had virtual community sessions and basically became pros at Zoom. We did all sorts of stuff. We held multiple climate strikes online which turned out really well. In my opinion, it wasn’t as amazing as the one that we did in person, but I think it’s as close as you can get. But the nice thing that came out of it is, I don’t think we probably would have ever started the campaign without COVID. We would have been so focused on local action. We wouldn’t have thought to use Zoom to connect everyone. Once we held our first [virtual] climate strike, we had people from all around the state coming and we were like, ‘Woah. This is really cool. You can just go on Zoom and you’re connected with everyone.’ We realized that we could form a connection with everyone across the state of Indiana.”

Photo provided by Sofia Alge.

What other steps have you taken in past years to raise awareness and fight for the climate crisis?

Annabel Prokopy: “This is the same for other places in the state as well, but in West Lafayette we’ve had climate strikes, and we’ve met with our politicians and delivered them binders that we made. We’ve met with their staff when we couldn’t actually meet with them. We got to meet with Sen. Braun and a couple others. Those [meetings] are really exciting, and it’s pretty empowering to tell them, ‘Hey, you need to treat this seriously.’ And we have seen some tangible action from that. We were also able to pass the Climate Resolution in West Lafayette. We just went to a lot of local meetings. We got to meet with the mayor and the city council president and work on climate action plans for the city which was really exciting.”

Ethan Bledsoe: “Yeah, we were able to pass the Climate Resolution that she [Annabel] talked about. It’s a carbon neutrality resolution which goes back to climate justice. After that, the city made an amendment saying that they are going to take steps to be carbon neutral by 2038, which is really exciting. Especially locally, we have continued to push for legislation. There’s a new climate emergency that some of us wrote and worked on that’s going to be presented to city council on Feb. 1 to be passed, which is really exciting. It goes back to the urgency of the situation and making everything right. We’re actually going to try, with the campaign, to pass the same climate emergency all around the state so that hopefully next year, when there’s more floor resolutions (there were no floor resolutions this year due to COVID), it can actually pass at the statewide level which would be exciting.”

What future goals do you have for the campaign? Are there any specific objectives you hope to accomplish in the next year or so?

Annabel Prokopy: “We really want to pass a [statewide] climate resolution, or at least put it into the statehouse and try to get it as far as we can. With that, we hope to pass a climate emergency for the whole state of Indiana. But unfortunately, we can’t do that until next year, so we’re building up the campaign this year. We’re going to try to focus on pushing other legislation through that’s positive for the environment and fight against legislation that is bad. We just want to keep speaking up, especially this year, and keep building support and passing those climate emergencies throughout the state.”

Photo provided by Sofia Alge.

Ethan Bledsoe: “Yeah, and those [climate emergency declarations] would create a more just environment throughout Indiana. One of our goals was to improve the situation for everyone, because there are people who are going to be most impacted by the climate crisis, like people of color and also low-income people. So, we’re trying to put in systems to help them as much as we can. That’s one of the goals, and we’re going to be working on that. It obviously will have to come later, like with specific legislation, but we’re just trying to keep that in mind because those are the people that are going to be most affected. If you can afford it, you’re not going to be affected until the very end when it gets everyone, right?”

Why is it important to get as many people as you can educated about the climate crisis?

Josi Fisher: “I think it’s important to educate as many people about the climate crisis because the more people that know about it, the more that can inspire to take action. I’m pretty sure I heard Greta Thunberg say something like, ‘The more people who take action, the harder it’ll be to ignore.’ I feel like the more people that know about it means the more people that care, the more people that give their time, and more people that can take action.”

Ethan Bledsoe: “If you’re not educated, and you don’t do anything, you’re just ignorant, right? But if you’re educated and want to do nothing about it, you’re not ignorant, you’re just — I don’t know what you are — you’re just a bad person, I guess. Getting rid of this ignorance is the main thing, especially among politicians. I think a lot of them just don’t know much about it. It’s not their priority. That’s why we need to educate them or at least try to give them resources so they can educate themselves. I know it’s kind of hard to hear from some kids. But I think getting rid of that ignorance is really important. Not that much is going to happen unless people are more educated and open to the climate crisis.”

Ethan Stoehr: “Going off of that, the more people that know about it and understand the severity of it, and the more public support there is with people who want change, the more politicians will feel compelled to appease their constituents.”

Photo provided by Sofia Alge.

What are ways that young people or anyone can take effective action for change in their community?

Annabel Prokopy: “They can continue to educate themselves on the climate crisis and use that knowledge to fuel action. Joining groups that are already existent is a great way to get involved. If you live in a community where there’s already a local Fridays for Future group or climate strike group, reach out to them or go to their next meeting. If you live somewhere where there isn’t that group available, you can always start one with a few friends. You can also always join the Confront the Climate Crisis Campaign from anywhere in the state, which is
a great way to make an impact.”

Lastly, why would you encourage someone to get involved? How might they do that?

Ethan Stoehr: “For a lot of young people, it’s your future for one, if that’s an argument that appeals to you. A lot of people are really fond of nature, animals and ecosystems, and that’s at stake. People’s lives and the way that we live are at stake. I mean, there’s a number of arguments that I can give. A lot of young people care about justice now. For getting involved, I encourage contacting your local legislators, whether that’s at a city level or state level because you want to get your name out there so they know who you are. Overall, advocating for the climate crisis and issues that are important to you hopefully will encourage change.”

Photo provided by Sofia Alge.

Ethan Bledsoe: “Everyone has to care about something, and I think everything is at stake because of the climate crisis. I think if you make that connection, that everything you know and love could be at stake because of the climate crisis, then I think you’ll realize that you need to become an activist or at least do something to fight it. I think everyone should be passionate about the climate crisis because it covers everything.”

For more information, visit the Confront the Climate Crisis website here!

You can also visit West Lafayette Climate Strike’s website here!

To sign the statewide campaign to confront the climate crisis petition, click here!

To sign a volunteer form, click here!

If you are a part of a climate justice organization in Indiana wanting to join the campaign, click here!

To read more about the campaign efforts, visit the confront climate blog here!

To hear more, listen to Annabel Prokopy’s podcast “On Strike With Insight” here!

Most of the links above can be found on this linktree which you can send to friends and family and share on social media.

Confront the Climate Crisis Campaign Instagram: @confronttheclimatecrisis
Confront the Climate Crisis Campaign Twitter: @ConfrontCrisis
Confront the Climate Crisis Campaign Facebook: ConfrontTheClimateCrisis
West Lafayette Climate Strikes Instagram: @wlclimatestrike

This story was originally published in the Scarlette-West Lafayette Student News.

An Interview With Young Leaders Around The State