Youth Climate Activists You Should Know

Climate change is a priority even during the pandemic. And there are youth climate activists who are making their voices heard during these challenging times. This is the second in our series featuring young people pushing the message of stopping pollution and destruction of nature to local and national leaders.

I reached out to the international branch of Fridays for Future (FFF) to find out what some of their most active members were doing. FFF is a global climate strike movement that was started by Greta Thunberg. Many young people are part of the cause and are eager to get leaders to take better care of the planet.  

*Editor’s Note* All interviews are in the participant’s words; limited editing done for clarity where needed.

“…It is an extinction issue for all the life on earth.”

–Atlas Sarrafoglu

Atlas Sarrafoglu lives in Istanbul, Turkey. He’s 13 years old and been a climate activist since March 2019, when he founded Fridays for Future in Turkey. Sarrafoglu He keeps busy organizing climate strike events and attending summits speaking about the climate crisis.  He’s keen on shedding light on how pollution affects Istanbul’s citizens. He says, “There is a crazy project by our government Canal Istanbul, which will affect the environment in an irreversible way, as for drinkable water resources and ecological breakdown will be the main issues.”

Sarrafoglu understands that nature needs protection for all people in his country and people all over the world. Nature inspires him. “It’s like the earth is talking to you through the waves of the sea and the blowing of the wind and the colors of the flowers.”

Tell me more about the Canal Istanbul Project and other environmental problems happening in your community.

The canal will cut through the land, and the two different seas will be mixed with each other. The government is trying to do this project because it involves a lot of money with new urbanization developments. This other problem is overpopulation and the number of cars in the city, the air pollution is terrible.

What are you doing to fight these issues?  
Due to the Covid-19 outbreak, we can’t be on the streets; however, we push our social media activity, informing people of the results once the Canal Istanbul Project goes through. Before Covid-19, I had attended one strike protest for this project, but now everything is at a standstill.

I had attended strikes demanding better air quality. My country has many coal power plants, so we strike against those as well. The government has no plans to close those coal power plants.

You mentioned there is an overpopulation problem. How many people live in Istanbul?  

I am thankful for living in a privileged area. Istanbul is a large city of 16 million people. Lately, we see a lot of Syrian refugees in the city. Many are either underpaid or unemployed, making their lives harder to live. For instance, there were big fires on Lesbos Island where 13,000 refugees are struggling to survive.

Who inspired you to become an environmental activist? 
I would say Greta Thunberg, but at home, my mother is the one who is an environmentalist, and she talks about the climate crisis. And mom was the one who heard about Greta and came and told me, so I should probably say, Mom.   

What is your hope for the future of the planet?

I still have hope that we can do this if we all act together now. There is no reason why we shouldn’t act on it because it is an extinction issue for all the life on earth. Not just humans but trees, animals, coral reefs. Anything you can think of as living is facing extinction. That is the startling news people will have to wake up and see. We do not have much time, so that is why we kids are rising to let the world know we want a livable future.  

What type of work do you want to do as an adult?

I am still young and trying to figure out what I want to do, but I see myself studying law to defend people’s rights, for right now. That is the way for me at the moment. But everything changes so quickly, and we have to take direction accordingly to adapt. I don’t know if I would change my mind in three years when deciding about the university I will attend.

Check out Sarrafoglu’s website and follow him on social media: