One of the foremost young voices in discussions about Earth protection, 16-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez has been speaking and rallying on behalf of the environment since he was 6. Martinez is the founder and youth director of Earth Guardians, a youth activist organization that empowers young people to make a difference for a more promising future. In 2013, he was the youngest of 24 representatives picked to serve on President Obama’s youth council. Martinez is also an up-and-coming hip-hop artist and a member of the Bioneers board of directors.
In 2014, Xiuhtezcatl Martinez spoke about youth empowerment at the Bioneers Conference. His presentation is below, as a video and transcript.
Bioneers is excited to welcome Martinez back to Bioneers 2017, where he will be a keynote speaker.
My father raised me in the Aztec tradition, and through that, I learned that all life is sacred, and that each and every one of us is deeply connected, not only to one another but to the world around us. The issues and crises we’re facing on our planet are affecting our local communities and ourselves because of this connection to this Earth.
Humans have a lot of power. We were put here to be the caretakers of the land, and we have done opposite of that, especially since the Industrial Revolution. We are working to repair this connection with the Earth.
When I was 6, I saw Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary The 11th Hour. It was about the global crisis, the state of the planet, and what human lifestyles were doing to the world around us. As a 6-year-old watching that, I was freaked out, because I saw that my world—the world that my generation was going to be left with—was collapsing. I saw that carbon levels were rising and impacting communities around the planet. I cried that night. It was devastating because my own hometown—my own community—was being impacted by climate change and by rising CO2 levels, rising methane levels, and greenhouse gases.
Colorado suffered the greatest fire we have ever seen in our history in the same three months as we suffered our greatest floods. We are seeing floods where we never saw floods. We were seeing fires and droughts where we never saw fires and droughts. It’s not just about global warming anymore; it’s about shifting weather patterns—hot places are getting cold, and cold places are getting hot. Humans are being displaced around the planet because of typhoons, tornadoes, hurricanes, and mass destruction. This is a human rights issue.
It is the defining issue of our time. After I saw that documentary, I realized I could do one of two things. I could sit by idly as the world around me—my world—collapsed. But a lot of people say this generation is the future. The truth is we’re here now; we are the present. I had to take action.
I decided to get engaged. And right after that, I started an organization called Earth Guardians. I’m the youth director of this organization, and we’re working in communities to protect the earth, the air, the water and the atmosphere so that my generation and those who follow will inherit a healthy, safe, sustainable, equitable planet for every generation to come.
We started taking action in our communities. We got pesticides banned. We got coal ash regulated. We helped get bans and moratoria on fracking all over the state of Colorado. We worked on raising awareness about climate change, showing youth the power that we have to change the world.
Through social media, this spread across the planet. Now we have Earth Guardian crews on six continents, making a difference and standing up to some of the biggest industries in the world because we know that our future, our world, our existence is more powerful and more important than anything else.
Another way that we have gotten involved is through lawsuits. Youth from all 50 states filed lawsuits against our state and federal governments demanding them to take action on climate change by creating climate recovery plans.
Rising Youth for a Sustainable Earth is a program that we have put in place to help educate and inspire young people, engage this rising generation of climate solutionaries, and show them that the solutions are here now. It is time to be implementing them in our schools, in our homes, and in our communities.
Since the Civil Rights movement, youth have been on the front lines, marching for their future, fighting for the survival of every living system on the planet.
Just a few weeks ago, youth of all colors, including myself and my little brother, were on the front lines of the greatest climate march in the history of the world, where over 400,000 people marched through the streets of New York, saying “We’re not going to wait for you to take action because we have the power right here, right now.”
A lot of people think that the power in this world, the power to change, the power to make a difference, comes from political leaders, governments or presidents, but they are wrong. The power in this world comes from us; it comes from you, it comes from the people in this audience, and the people on this planet right here and right now.
The Earth is collapsing. Every living system that we see is unraveling. Oceans are acidifying. Our forests are disappearing. Human rights issues are only getting worse. Our planet is collapsing, and in the light of a collapsing world, what better time to be born than now because this generation gets to rewrite history. It gets to leave our mark on this Earth because we will be known as the people on the planet that brought forth a healthy, just, sustainable world for every generation to come. This generation of people get to create the rebirth. We get to co-create and re-create this new world of sustainability, of justice, of equity for all people on Earth. We are the generation of change.