On March 16, 2017, Bay Area Action Fellow James Coleman took the Climate One stage to record a podcast episode centered around youth activism and using the courts to fight climate change. James was joined by Corina Williams, a youth plaintiff in the landmark federal youth climate change lawsuit, and Lou Helmuth, Deputy Director of Our Children's Trust, the legal team representing the 21 youth plaintiffs. Below, James shares his experience on Climate One and gives advice on what young people can do right now in the fight against climate change.
How did it feel to be a part of the Climate One podcast?
I was feeling nervous leading up to the event. I had never spoken on a podcast or tv show before Climate One. But in the few weeks leading up to it, I practiced a lot and became more comfortable. I felt like I was developing more of a purpose or passion for my opinions and how to verbalize them.
Was there a particular question you were excited to answer?
I was most excited when asked to explain what climate change is. I gave a broad explanation of what climate change is to me and how it affects the earth.
Another question I found particularly interesting was what I thought about the 2016 primaries and election. I think the system is really flawed because the electoral college does not reflect the popular vote. I was also frustrated by the revelations of the Democratic National Committee’s pay-to-play system and how they treated Bernie Sanders like trash. The last question of the day was really funny- would you date a climate change denier if she was really cute? I said, "yes, but only if she was open to changing her mind."
What are your thoughts on the federal youth climate lawsuit?
I feel like this case has big implications. It’s something that has never been out there before. Based on what Lou Helmuth was saying, there are legal grounds for this. We all have the right to safe water safe and clean air and the government needs to provide this to citizens under the Constitution. The Obama and Trump administrations have been trying to push it down, but this case is really strong.
Was there anything new you learned from the other panelists?
Something that was brought to my attention is the impact of climate change on the marine environment. I had never considered marine impacts as being as important as air pollution, impacts from fossil fuel extraction, etc. But marine impacts are equally if not more important. As carbon is pumped into the atmosphere, it’s the oceans that are sucking up that carbon. Marine life is absorbing this. Looking at forecasts of all marine life being dead in 10-20 years is shocking. In the future, fish might not be a commodity. The Great Barrier Reef could be dead. Fish could be extinct.
How did the Fellowship prepare you for this experience?
Before the Fellowship, it was always clear to me that climate action was a thing to do, but I never took initiative to be a force in my community. After joining ACE, they taught me how to be a climate activist, how to speak publicly, how to talk to your state representative and all sorts of skills that prepared me to do Climate One. Without ACE, I would not be going to protests, speaking out, and taking action. I would just be at home doing whatever. The ACE Fellowship brought me out into the real world.
What do you feel is the role of young people in the climate movement?
The role of young people should be to change what you want to see in your community. Don't wait for others to take action; you should be the one to step up and take action. Whether it is in your home, community, or school- whatever it is, just go out and do it.
You are a graduating high school senior, congrats! What are your plans for next year?
I plan to study pre-med at Harvard University next year while continuing to be involved in environmental activism and climate justice.