Treehugger Interview: Sharon Smith, Author of "The Young Activist's Guide to Building a Green Movement and Changing the World"

Earth Island Institute's Brower Youth Awards is the premier showcase for youth activism and author Sharon Smith has written a new book that tells the stories of some of the inspiring winners and gets their advice for being an effective activist: "The Young Activist's Guide to Building a Green Movement and Changing the World." Smith was program advisor for the Brower Youth Awards, and she is now enrolled in the prestigious masters program in Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Treehugger interviewed Sharon by email and here are a few of her answers. TH: How did you get the idea for the book?

Soon after beginning to work with the Brower Youth Awards, I realized that the stories from youth at the frontlines of the environmental movement were enormously inspirational and deserved packaging as a book. With the help of Jason Mark, editor of the Earth Island Journal, and a fabulous agent, we birthed the concept of a guidebook to activism peppered with success stories from the field. Ultimately, I wrote the guidebook I wish I had found when I started my own journey as an activist, in college, and had no idea how to get started and really have a meaningful impact on the issues I cared about.

TH: I know that all of the activists profiled in the book have amazing stories. Please name a few that really stand out for you.

SS: So many of their stories stand out. I am continually impressed with Alec Loorz, from Ventura, who is planning the iMatter march for this May. He is rallying youth to call upon elected officials to be leaders on the issue of climate change, from local to global initiatives. When he was young, he committed his life to addressing global warming. "Who better to coach him", he thought, than Al Gore? So he reached out and asked for mentorship and training. Alec was rejected, initially--so just started giving slideshows to his peers and neighbors on his own. Ultimately Gore invited him to become the youngest trained presenter of The Climate Project.

Or there's Erica Fernandez, who is both a spectacular human being and phenomenal spokesperson for direct action and social change. She came to the United States from Mexico when she was just ten, and got involved with efforts to speak out against a proposed LNG pipeline and facility off of the Oxnard coast. She inspired 250 of her peers to attend rallies and public meetings and shut down a multi-billion dollar company's plans. I can't imagine getting 250 high schoolers excited about the issue of liquified natural gas--can you? Now she's at Stanford and I'm so eager to see what she takes on next.

TH: With no national climate plan on the horizon and the US's intransigent position on a global deal to tackle climate change, what condition would you say the climate movement is in right now and what do you recommend be done to improve the situation?

SS: This is the million dollar question--one I've been thinking about for weeks on end now. The climate movement is lacking a focused direction--and in a stage of serious movement building. I think there are three big areas for action. First, we need to convince a greater portion of the American public to get involved in this issue, particularly in terms of speaking out in the media and putting pressure on elected officials. Second, we need to make dirty energy more expensive by calling attention to the health and economic externalities borne by the American public and using protests to discourage the construction of new coal-fired power plants. And finally, we need smart students to commit themselves to becoming advocates for clean tech investments. Some of that will happen in the political arena, but we also need many more engineers and scientists working on making green energy cheap, as quickly as possible, and expanding new technologies to scale.

TH: What's next for you?

SS: I'm in the middle of a masters program in Environmental Management at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. I am committed to forest protection, particularly in the intersection of human rights, land use change, and multinational companies.

Tags: Activism