Climate Warriors

These High Schoolers Are Tired of Waiting for Adults to Curb Climate Change

The world has Greta Thunberg. Portland has Charlie Abrams and Jeremy Clark.

By Sarah Mirk January 21, 2020 Published in the February 2020 issue of Portland Monthly

It’s hard to consider the climate crisis with anything but pull-the-covers-up-and-go-back-to-bed horror. But environmental activists—and Cleveland High School sophomores—Charlie Abrams and Jeremy Clark keep their focus on inspiration instead of all that impending doom.

“I feel like youth as a whole have a different opinion on the climate crisis,” says Abrams, 16, pictured above at right, with Clark. “We see it more as a problem we can (solve), because we have our whole lifetime to work on this.”

The pair, who met in fourth grade, cofounded a nonprofit called Affected Generation that organizes youth environmental activism through protests, lobbying, and media-making. At 12, Abrams spoke at a Portland Public Schools board meeting urging the district to weave climate change into its core curriculum.

In 2016, the board unanimously passed a resolution to do just that, and curriculum development is under way—much needed, since a recent review by the PPS Climate Justice Committee found that not a single one of the social studies and science textbooks currently in use adequately addresses the climate crisis.

Now, Abrams and Clark, 15, want even more action, and faster, from both education leaders and politicians.

Last March, they were lead local organizers for a global youth climate strike. In Portland, more than 1,000 teens left school and marched downtown, protesting in front of city hall and staging a sit-in at PPS headquarters to demand more climate
education in classrooms.

Last spring, Affected Generation helped get dozens of local high school students to Salem for a youth climate action lobby day. At the same time, both Abrams and Clark went to Salem weekly to advocate for a bill that would significantly limit businesses’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The lesson in politics ended bitterly, as Republicans literally fled the legislature to avoid a vote, delaying the policy for at least another year.

“Everyone was really, really bummed,” says Clark. 

But in June, the pair got some good news: they were honored with the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, a $10,000 award for “public-spirited young people” across North America. Clark and Abrams used the funds to buy video gear and are now making short documentary films about political issues. Rather than swearing off the crushing political process, they’re determined to rally enough support to get a climate change bill passed in the next legislative session.

“People are starting to realize that turning off the lights and recycling is just not going to cut it,” says Clark.

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