Agate asked young Grand Marais climate change activist Olya Wright for permission to share the speech she gave at a recent youth rally and march in St. Paul. See the full text of her speech, below, along with a few introductory notes from Olya. We can’t think of a better way to begin 2019 than to hear her positive, clear-eyed view of the way forward. Happy New Year!
Hi. My name is Olya Wright. I am 13 years old and part of a statewide youth coalition called MN Can’t Wait.
To start, I want to share one of my favorite memories from part of my journey to stop Climate Change. This memory is from a presentation a couple years ago. We were presenting to some local 8th graders about our work with Grand Marais in stopping Climate Change. The last slide in our presentation said: Questions. Some people timidly raised their hands and asked some questions. But the last person to raise his hand was a boy in the front row. He said, “I have a comment.” And then he said the most surprising thing. He said, “You are the smartest people I know!”
So, I am not the smartest person. No. What I think this one boy was saying, is that we were doing something that touched his heart, something that made him feel like what we were doing mattered and made a difference. But maybe he also felt that he could, not possibly, do what we were doing. We were special. That may be how he interpreted our work—but really, we just found a way to act on an issue that Can’t Wait.
Olya’s speech at Youth Rally and March to the State Capitol, St. Paul, MN, October 2018:
I live near Grand Marais, Minnesota in some woods: pretty much in the middle of nowhere. Our farm has a large garden and many pets. Three ducks named Daisy, Buttermilk and Midnight; 21 Chickens (I won’t name them all now); Blackberry, the cat; Tashka my dog; and Oatmeal (my 12 week old bunny). I love to dance. I enjoy cross country skiing and swimming. Why am I telling you this? Because I want to show you that I am just another person, like you.
In 2014, I started the Nordic Nature Group with friends. We mainly played in the woods and went on hikes but eventually we started to feel that we need to do more than that. We wanted to bring out the voice of nature and let it be heard. Climate Change and the problems it poses to nature became a focus.
But how could we stop Climate Change? I have been overwhelmed by this idea many times. Fortunately, I found out about an organization called iMatter that helps youth (like me) tackle Climate Change in your own community. With iMatter’s help, the Nordic Nature Group and other local youth gave our city, Grand Marais, a grade on how they are doing at addressing Climate Change. They got a D+ if you are curious. We also asked them to pass a Youth Climate Inheritance Resolution that required three things: 1. Complete a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that reduces our Greenhouse Gas Emissions to levels that could protect our communities, children, and grandchildren from the risks of climate destruction; 2. Begin creating this CAP within 3 months and complete it as soon as possible; 3. Include the youth voice in decision making that has to do with Climate Change and the environment.
This resolution passed to a standing ovation, and now, we are working with the City to create their Climate Action Plan.
This means, I go to lots of meetings with adults to figure out how to work on Climate Change. And often they want to do the right thing, but adults tend to get stuck on the roadblocks. They find all the reasons why it’s impossible to solve the problem…. No money, No time, No technology. It is going to be hard to stop Climate Change—but this is why youth need to have a voice at the table—we still have the ability to see past the challenges and remind them that NO is not acceptable. MN Can’t Wait. We need to act. Now.
Remember: It doesn’t matter how young or old you are. What matters is, your passion and care for the environment, a can-do attitude. A desire to make a difference. If we want to save our planet we need to take action now. MN Can’t Wait.
All photographs by Jeanne Henderson Wright. ©