Hmmm, what to do . . . You’re a teen and it’s a Wednesday afternoon. You could spend a few hours on your phone, go shopping, look for a part-time job, or save the world.
Jamie Margolin regularly chooses to save the world.
Jamie is a high-school student in Seattle; she’s also one of the young people suing the state of Washington for allowing dangerous amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. And she’s the founder of Zero Hour, which—soon after the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement—organized a 2018 march in Washington, D.C., to bring attention to our severely degrading environment.
The primary activities of Zero Hour are basic: demanding that politicians stop taking money from oil companies; asking people to grow food in all neighborhoods so that they don’t depend as much on huge agricultural firms; and advocating for affordable transit systems. An overall goal of Zero Hour is to register young people to vote and to speak up at town hall meetings. By March 2019, Zero Hour had organized events in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and Australia—many of those events protests against climate-change denial.
Jamie and her fellow organizers haven't had an easy time of it. “We are not a movement that happened overnight at all,” she says. “It took grueling hours and hours every day of slow but gradual movement building, and it still does.”
"We are not a happy-go-lucky group of kids holding up signs. We mean business and are sounding the emergency alarm on the climate crisis. . . . I don’t get paid for this, I’m not lobbying on behalf of anybody. I’m only doing this because it feels so urgent.”
Zero Hour is indeed having an effect. Increasing numbers of young people are joining the movement—confronting lawmakers, protesting, challenging traditional industrial practices. And several members of the U.S. Senate and Congress have indicated their support.
Jamie was initially motivated to do something about the environment after a series of natural disasters—including nearby fires that caused noxious smoke over all of western Washington. She and her colleagues have also been inspired by the students who organized for gun control after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. They understand that they truly have the ability to effect change, but only if they put forth the effort—and that effort means sacrificing other activities that teenagers customarily enjoy. Jamie does hours of conference calls every single day, as well as using other social media to keep in contact with Zero Hour participants.
“The Parkland youth,” says Jamie, “are asking for their right to live without the fear of gun violence, and we’re asking to live without climate chaos, and without that fear. We’re both just asking to live.”