When Xiuhtezcatl Tonatiuh walks on stage, he knows how to work a crowd. As his music starts up, he gets the audience clapping to the beat. His rap evokes environmental images - fighting for the world, the earth mother, ecological disaster.
At only fourteen, this is a regular routine for Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced shiu-tes-catl) the indigenous activist from Boulder, Colorado. He attends 2-3 events every week and in the last two months, has only had two weekends off. He can list his key points pretty quickly, "I focus on climate change, connection to culture and connection to our indigenous roots, from my experiences, why it’s important and how it plays out in the world around us. I also give a presentation on fracking, called the 'inconvenient proof,'" he said. His connection to nature comes from his indigenous Aztec roots on his fathers' side.
We caught up with him at the Omega Center for Sustainable Living Conference on "Where do we go from here?" He was joined by environmental leaders Bill McKibben, Vandana Shiva, Van Jones and others to address the impending challenges we face with global warming.
"These are my issues, these are the issues that my generation is going to be left with," Xiuhtezcatl told Treehugger, "and we gotta bust our ass to get them fixed… or we’re really going to have a very challenging existence on earth for generations to come."
Xiuhtezcatl's passion is conveyed in his speeches, and his energy seems endless, despite the endless nature of his activism. He tells us that he goes to schools, colleges, conferences, local events, keynote speeches and attended the People's Climate March last month. This has been his life since he was six. Now, eight years later, at an age when his voice cracks, he doesn't miss a beat - just makes a joke about the challenges of being a teenager.
Following in his footsteps is his little brother, Itzcuauhtli. The brothers like to share the scene. Like Xiuhtezcatl, he gets the crowd clapping within seconds of climbing on stage. The two were inspired by their parents, who are activists themselves. They've also been inspired by the problems they've been seeing in their home state. Xiuhtezcatl remembers the 2013 floods in Boulder extremely well - and they left quite an impression on him. These are the things that inspire him to lead a sustainable life, and encourage others to do the same.
Xuihtezcatl doesn't just talk the talk - he does a lot of walking too. When he's not on stage, he makes sure to reduce his carbon footprint by recycling, composting, not wasting food, not eating any meat and buying local, organic food. "That’s the easy part of it," he said. And these are the messages he shares with the world.
"I honestly couldn't imagine doing anything else, but I hope that there won’t be a need to do it say… 10 years in the future," he said. "I hope we will have smartened up enough and that we’ll have been able to make enough of a difference in the world now that in 10 years I won’t have to still be on the front lines of activism."
Watch Xiuhtezcatl and his brother here (the rap starts at 4:50):