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Iris Zhan co-founded Fridays for Future Digital with a mission to create digital campaigns that raise awareness about the impact of climate change on local commmunities.
IRIS ZHAN: Whoa. OK. Thank you all. Welcome to my little climate activism crash course. That's me, Irish Zhan, they/them.
So go out and spread the word to everyone.
- --our future--
IRIS ZHAN: My climate activism background, I started at a very similar event that you all are at. That's me testifying at the George Howard Building in favor of the plastic bag fee in 2018, which is now a thing.
I think that the deadline and timing of this climate crisis is what really made me understand how urgent it is. The climate crisis affects every scope of humanity. It's just really existential and urgent.
My name is Iris Zhan. I am a Climate Changemaker focusing on digital campaigns. Growing up in Maryland, I learned about the climate crisis through school. A lot of that knowledge really inspired me to get more involved in my local community. So I went through my newspaper and such looking for local events and started showing up at some of those.
I learned about all these different initiatives in my local community, like Howard County Climate Action, Less Plastic Please, and Citizens' Climate Lobby, just a few groups that I've got involved with. I sort of noticed how I was one of the only young people there.
I think that really pushed me to see this crisis as more important because of how I felt-- I was the only one there-- and how it shouldn't just be me because this affects my generation so, so much.
And as many people as there are, we need more. And that's where you come in.
A lot of us, we need to be reminded that we can make a difference. That's why we're all here. And so we've gotten to the point where the mainstream public is decently scared of the climate crisis. And we can think the climate movement for creating that shift in the public. But most people are not yet engaged in action. And activism really works.
As someone who did campaigning with Fridays For Future Digital, we were successfully able to get the Escazú agreement in Latin America, and the Caribbean actually ratified.
Me being the activist I am, I wanted to get involved even more. I decided to try to get involved with Fridays For Future in the US. It was not exactly the easiest thing to do because mostly it revolved around climate striking and that wasn't really accessible. I connected with my friend, George Zhang, who also struggled to organize a climate strike. We realized that a lot of people from many different backgrounds cannot climate strike every single week.
We wanted to be able to uplift those voices and make sure that they can be channeled into real, impactful action. Digital platforms can really help increase the representation there and improve accessibility and inclusivity.
There are times we can feel really pessimistic and cynical. But we have to remember every fraction of degree warming matters, every life, people, plants, or animals, all of it. It's not just about you. It's about all of us together.
Accessibility is really important for me and for the climate movement as a whole because when I first got involved I was the one Asian person of color, young person in the room. Movements that are only led by white people have so many problems. And not being inclusive means that what we're advocating for isn't really benefiting the entirety of society.
As someone who also has certain privileges, it's really important to be able to make room in a movement for those who don't have as much privilege. Because of how the climate crisis impacts people with less privilege, it is really essential for true climate justice.
Never stop educating yourself. You don't have to know everything. Learn as you go with things and there will be people, like myself, who support you every step of the way.
There are so many different ways for young people to get involved and understand what's going on in your community, finding other people who are also passionate in that same way and taking it to the next level, whether that be engaging with your elected officials, whether that be going to your school and training them on climate advocacy, taking digital actions. There's so many different groups.
It's really important for young people to take action. That's what really helps keep the movement progressing.