Upon first encounter, Xiuhtezcatl (pronounced Shoe-Tez-Caht) Martinez seems like your typical high schooler. He hangs out with friends in his spare time, has a penchant for rap music, and places family above all else. But once you get the 17-year-old talking, it becomes clear that his extracurriculars extend far beyond a varsity field or music room.
Martinez, along with 20 of his peers who range in age from 9 to 20, is suing the federal government for violating their constitutional right to life, liberty, prosperity, and the pursuit of happiness. As far as they are concerned, any politician who supports the fossil fuel industry is putting his or her constituents squarely in climate change’s fierce line of fire.
"We are demanding that they put together a climate recovery plan to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions every year until we’re down to 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere," Martinez explains on a call from Los Angeles. He pauses before pronouncing, "Pretty ambitious."
Ambitious indeed. But considering that the younger generation has the most to lose in the fight against climate change, it just might work. Levi Draheim (9) could witness his hometown on Florida’s Atlantic coast wash away before he hits 50. And Nathan Baring (17), a high school student in Alaska, is already watching warmer temperatures destroy his native landscape.
"I can deal with a few days of rain in February when it’s supposed to be 40 below, but I can’t deal with the idea that what my parents experienced and what I have experienced will not exist for my children. I am a winter person. I won’t sit idly by and watch winter vanish," Baring told National Geographic. Mobilizing experiences like these have already carried the young activists past their first hurdle.