There are youth climate activists who are driving change making their voices heard during these challenging times of climate change. This article is part of a continuing series featuring young people spreading the message of stopping pollution and destroying nature. 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 Greta Thunberg started. 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 was done for clarity where needed.
Sofia Gutierrez is an 18-year-old environmental education project coordinator of the NGO, Pacto X el Clima in Bogotá, Colombia. She works to address agricultural and air issues that climate change has caused in her city. Gutierrez understands how pollution impacts people from witnessing her mother get sick when she worked at a polluted place.
How long have you been an environmental activist?
What environmental problems are happening in your community?
I live in the capital of my country. Almost 70% of my city is a rural area, leading us to a high risk of landslides due to Bogotá being a plateau. Also, 30% of the urban area constantly faces floods, and 3.5 million people are at risk of mass removal. It´s projected to have a 20% increase in the rain for 2070.
I live in a high-risk zone for forest fires (I have the eastern hills behind my house) due to the high temperatures. My area is expected to lose almost 70.5% of the high Andean forest and lose almost 54.6% of the region’s moorlands.
My city depends on the moorlands water. Sumapaz is considered to be the world’s biggest one. Sadly it´s not well protected by the government. Aside from that, the sabana of Bogotá faces high frosts and extreme droughts/floods that ruin the agricultural process, leaving the urban area with a low food supply. Also, Bogotá has a very bad air quality, especially in the center of the city. The worst part is some zones of the city don´t receive water or electricity.
What are you doing to fight these issues?
Through my work at Pacto X el Clima, I seek to create a concept around climate change that includes my country’s data. If we don’t know our territory, we won´t be able to protect it; my country is vulnerable to climate change effects. Since January 2020, many environmental NGOs have gathered together with the city council to declare a climate emergency. After a long discussion, the project is fulfilling the process to be ratified.
How have the local leaders in your area responded to your concerns?
With the city council, we´ve created a document to declare the climate emergency, including the following points.
Mandate One: Land-use planning around water and socio-ecosystems.
Mandate Two: Protection of the main ecological structure -EEP- and biodiversity.
Mandate Three: Bogotá guarantees food Security and sovereignty.
Mandate Four: Energy transition and greenhouse gas reduction.
Mandate Five: Integrated waste management with social inclusion for the climate crisis.
Mandate Six: Solidarity economy of care and resilience.
Mandate Eight: Education and participation for a new environmental ethic.
Mandate Nine: Innovation, science, and democratization of knowledge.
Describe your community. Are there a lot of underserved and overlooked people that live there?
The air quality of my city is one of the worst worldwide. The majority of the buildings aren’t well built, as many don’t have access to water, electricity, or even a road to arrive. In other zones of the city, the density of people is so extreme that they´ve had to build houses from cans.
Do you live in a house made from cans?
Not exactly. My roof is made of second-hand roof tiles. Due to the extreme rains and winds
(and because they are not well built), they often get damaged, and some parts of my house
floods due to the leaks.
How has your family’s or neighbor’s health been affected by climate change and pollution?
I don’t have exact information about my neighbors, but my mom now suffers from asthma. She also had bronchitis and pneumonia twice due to air pollution. We know this because she used to work in a dirty place and in places where the air quality wasn’t good.
Now she works in a rural area, and she has gotten better.
Where did your mother work before?
I think the climate crisis is a fight that will defend the environment and vindicate the rights of those who have suffered the most from pollution. When my mother got pneumonia the first time, she worked in a village called Sopo and another place near Bogotá.
Now she works in Chia that is closer to Bogotá.
How soon will the leaders take action on the mandates you mentioned?
The project just passed the first debate in the city council. They are discussing the dateline for the next debate and discussing the viability of the project.
Are the leaders, including the people that live in the community, to help?
In January 2020, with many NGOs, we made an open call for the city to participate in the construction of the document. We created a platform called #EmergenciaClimáticaYa. We also taught some workshops related to the topics so people would know what was happening and could be part of the project’s construction.
What is your favorite thing to do in nature?
I love seeing plants I’ve never seen before. I love exploring the nature that surrounds me, but mostly I love breathing next to trees.
What are your goals for the future?
I hope that environmental education is considered a right not only in my country but also in the world. If we don’t know our territory, we won’t be able to take care of it.
Many times we don’t get to see what is happening in the most affected areas, and we continue to ignore the fact that some countries are not fighting for their future but their present,
which is what’s happening in my area.
Who inspires you?
Malala and Greta have taken the fear away from me; they have made me understand
that the world can listen to youth, and especially girls.
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