When other kids were experiencing the travails of first grade, 6-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez was concerned about threats to the World’s ecosystem. Martínez, now 14, is the youth director of the environmental organization Earth Guardians and one of the youngest people to speak on a United Nations panel.
Martínez, a resident of Boulder, Colorado, credits his worldview to the Aztec teachings of his father and the environmental activism of his mother.
You gave your first speech at a climate change rally when you were 6. At age 12, you were among the youngest speakers at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit. How is it that you became an environmental activist?
Xiuhtezcatl Martínez [XM]: One factor was the indigenous teachings passed on to me by my father and ancestors: that all life is sacred and connected to each of us; that as people on Earth we have a responsibility to be caretakers of the world. […]
My work as a young Indigenous Environmental Activist has been so connected with my ceremonies and my culture. I have spent my life going to ceremonies since I was born. My favorite ceremonies that I have participated in with my dad are the sacred runs. We carry the sacred staffs and pray while we are sometimes running hundreds of miles. I have been running since I was a very small child. I have run from the border of [the part of the Planet we call]Mexico all the way to the Black Hills in South Dakota in a sacred run from the four directions of [the part of the Planet we call]the US praying for the healing of the people and of our nation. I have run from the Border of [the part of the Planet we call]Mexico through Navajo land and all the way to Hopi Land and have had the honor of offering our ceremonies and our Aztec dance in their sacred places. […]
I also watched the documentary, The 11th Hour, when I was 6. I was devastated. I saw that my world — the world that my and future generations will be left with — is being destroyed by our lifestyles. There’s such a lack of consciousness on our planet. We’re overusing our resources to an extent that every living system on Earth is dying.
I couldn’t not do something. The calling to create, to build and to inspire a revolution was so great that I couldn’t sit still. Through that empowerment, I found my voice — my inspiration — and took action.
According to former NASA scientist James Hansen, the level of atmospheric CO2 needs to decrease to 350 parts per million (ppm) or less to avoid a global catastrophe. What are some ways people can help?
[XM]: It’s important to not only focus on the problems, but to focus on solutions. Sustainability is not a solar panel — it’s a lifestyle. Before we go out there to change the world, we’ve got to start with ourselves. What can we improve on? What can we do better? Turn off the lights when you’re not using them. While you’re brushing your teeth, turn the water off. Bike and walk to school as much as you can. Use public transit. Recycle. Compost. We’ve got to consider the way we’re using products and the companies we’re buying from.
It starts with simple day-to-day actions. Then, maybe, you can get a little bigger. Get involved in your community: start a youth group, get involved with an environmental or animal rights group — whatever you’re passionate about.
From 1958 to 2014, atmospheric CO2 increased from 315 ppm to 401 ppm: Do you think Hansen’s model is achievable?
[XM]: We won’t be able to stop it overnight, but we can slow it down and, eventually, with a lot of hard work, rebuild the world we’ve destroyed. If every single person on our planet stopped driving their car for one day, we could save so much energy. Imagine if we did that for a week! Imagine if we didn’t buy plastic bottles for three days! The solution lies in the collective power people have around the world. Governments signing a paper that says they’re not going to release anymore carbon into the atmosphere isn’t going to fix our problems, because we will not have learned anything.
This problem is happening so humanity can come together, rebuild, reconnect, recreate and rebirth a new world. The technology is here, but we’re not going to wait for government action. We’re not going to set this on their shoulders and be like, “Okay, you guys, figure it out,” while we continue with our lives. This is going to take every person on the planet: people uniting and collaborating. The people are more powerful than anything we’ve ever seen.
You are a plaintiff in suits against the state of Colorado and the federal government. What are those about?
[XM]: We’re not asking for money. We’re asking them to put climate recovery plans into place and massively reforest our country and states so that our generation and future generations to come will inherit a healthy, safe, sustainable planet. The Public Trust Doctrine says that the government must preserve and protect natural resources for public use, for future generations, and that they cannot be used or hoarded by one entity, corporation or government. So, we’re arguing that the climate is an important resource that doesn’t belong to anybody but affects everyone. We’re demanding climate recovery plans that ensure a healthy, sustainable atmosphere.
Several major fossil fuel companies in the world have signed on as co-defendants with the state and the country. It doesn’t look like we have a shot if you look at it that way, but we’re making headway. […] Even if we don’t win, the statements and media coverage we’re getting — kids suing their country over climate change — is huge. The people that it’s bringing together and the movement it’s building are astonishing. I’m honored to be part of it.
Can you talk about your song “Be the Change?”
[XM]: We got this idea to write a song that was a little bit different and outside the box. We want to make the song uplifting and empowering so that when people hear it, they will say, ‘Dang, I want to do something about fracking, about climate change or about the next generation’s future.’ The song is based on Mahatma Gandhi’s theory and most famous quotes, ‘Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” He is a huge role model of mine. It is a really cool inspiring song and I hope everyone likes it.
Can you tell us about your song – “Live as if our Future Matters”?
[XM]: We cannot wait for our government to change the world, before power, before money, before greed – their purpose is to protect people. In my eyes they have failed us at that, so now it is time for the people to stand up for themselves and to be part of this global movement that is going to change the fundamental beliefs of our entire society, and we can take the next step in our evolution from this consumption of greed, we have the opportunity to evolve and grow and prosper from that. This generation, this is what we are meant to do – to bring forth a new revolution in a new mindset to this World.
–Xiuhtezcatl Martínez. Excerpt from the interviews 13-Year-Old Activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez Will Address U.N. and in Bill Moyers [Illustration offered as an anonymous gift :-)]