The Inspiration: Last November, Alexandria Villaseñor was excited to be on vacation in Davis, California. But her excitement turned to fear as smoke from the Camp Fire—a wildfire raging 100 miles away —blanketed the town. After Alexandria sent her mom videos of people collapsing on the street from smoke inhalation, her mom decided it was too dangerous for Alexandria, who has asthma, to stay in Davis.
Back home in New York City, Alexandria learned that the destructive force of the Camp Fire was likely the result of climate change: When temperatures rise, trees die and become kindling for wildfires. “I was really upset,” the 14-year-old says. “It linked my experience to the bigger picture.”
The Action: Taking her cue from Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who protested against climate change outside Sweden’s Parliament, Alexandria began skipping school on Fridays to sit on a bench outside the United Nations (UN), armed with signs, an umbrella, and, on freezing days, a sleeping bag. Her demand to world leaders: Reduce carbon emissions—one of the main causes of global warming—50 percent by 2030, a goal the UN says is necessary to avoid a global catastrophe.
Word of Alexandria’s protest spread via social media, and she soon had an international following. Along with two other American students, Haven Coleman and Isra Hirsi, Alexandria led the nationwide School Strike 4 Climate on March 15. She also launched a nonprofit, Earth Uprising, to help teens educate adults about climate change.