17-year-old gen Zer Charlie Abrams has been advocating for climate change action for half his life. Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, Abrams was first invited to talk about climate change on a local radio station when he was 10 years old, where his passion and knowledge got the attention of the national organization Our Climate. Abrams was given his first taste of political activism through the organization, working with them on climate legislations and showing the power of taking a top-down approach to creating change.

Over the past seven years, Abrams has organized some of America’s largest climate strikes and has brought climate education to public schools across Oregon. He has also found his passion as a cinematographer and uses film as a medium to shed light on environmental issues.

Below, we catch up with Abrams on his generation’s motivators, the power of optimism and what he hopes for the future.

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Why climate advocacy?

When I was 9 years old a friend gave a presentation about climate change and I was the only one in the class who was astonished by what he was saying. I was motivated partly by fear, but also by how I can change this issue—it didn’t seem that all hope was lost. In the beginning, I focused on the smallest acts of change, which was to educate other youth. My friend and I made a blog about climate change and we started to educate other people my age and then it grew to educating adults.

What approach are you taking to create environmental improvements?

When I first started being active with political climate advocacy, I was 10. I worked on a statewide policy to put a cap on carbon emissions for the largest polluters in Oregon. Over the years, the policy I worked on has evolved, but I definitely believe that if we can change the way the largest polluters are affecting our environment then that is the most effective thing we can do. In Oregon, if you look at the top 10 companies that pollute the most, they have the same net carbon emissions as the other 75% of Oregon. When I was younger, I thought policies would be a quick thing, but it’s ended up being a seven-year fight…at this point, it has taken up almost half my life. It’s a slow process but because of the affect it has I love working in policy.

Why do you think the younger generation are so passionate about fighting societal issues?

I think the largest reason why the youth are more active on different social justice movements than any other generations—it’s because of hope. When you’re younger, you see a lot of problems optimistically. Personally, when I see problems like climate change or huge issues that seem like one person can never change it, I still have that part inside of me that is really optimistic and feels like this problem can be solved.

Another reason why the youth are stepping up on a variety of social justice issues is due to education. If you have a generation who are on social media, they’re seeing news coverage a lot more and then they’re immediately being more educated than other people on average.

A lot of youth activist movements seem to show power in numbers. Do you agree?

I have a firsthand story. When I first worked on climate policy it was me and two other youths. Fast forward six years, and we have records broken for the largest number of youths coming out for an environmental issue—the largest lobby day on record. Every record there was for youth working on policy, we have broken.

The news started interviewing people my age and everyone started talking about it from our perspective. The number of youths that turned up drastically affected the fate of this bill and the fate of climate legislation in Oregon. I 100% believe we wouldn’t be where we are today on any issue, whether it be the racial justice movement or the climate justice movement or other forms of social justice, if there were no youth that have stepped up to work on these issues.

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Has access to the digital platforms aided your cause?

Social media is one of those tools that if you’re strategic about it, you can use to your advantage. It’s through different social media apps that movements take off. If I tried to organize climate strikes without having people repost it on their pages, then it would’ve been a waste of time, because that’s how a lot of people that attended heard about it.

What projects are you currently working on?

My main focus this year is on a project called “Recycled Living.” After working a lot on climate advocacy in Oregon, I’ve seen a lot of the social justice issues that still need to be worked on, and one of those issues in Portland is the houseless population here. Portland has one of the largest homeless population in America and it’s not being dealt with correctly or responsibly at all.

The idea came about to utilize local plastic pollution and melt it down to produce bricks that are used to create tiny homes in open spaces around Portland, creating a housing-first approach to work on this issue. The project itself is working with different organizations such as the Poland Community College and The Affordable Healthcare Organizations in Portland to have the people living in these villages have access to healthcare and have a place to stay. The project is going to start in Portland, then other parts of Oregon and hopefully to other parts of the US to address the issue of houselessness in a way that is sustainable and creative.

What plans do you have for the future?

I’m from Portland Oregon and have basically lived here all my life. After high school, I definitely want to study abroad and find out what the rest of the world is like. I really want to expand the experiences I’ve had and learn as much as I can about other cultures and other parts of the world while I’m young. Hopefully that will alter the way I think of issues so I can come at it with a unique perspective.

Any thoughts on the type of career you would like to pursue?

I want to have a career where I can focus on environmental advocacy and have film be my main priority. This would come through as documentaries and films about this movement. Film can really alter your perception on issues, and it can tell the full story in a way that nothing else can. Given I am still very young so I don’t exactly know where I’m headed, but I’m trying to do as much as I can so I can figure that out.

If you were to write a slogan for your generation, what would it be?

‘Our future, our fight.’ For other youth activists that I’ve met, we’re not waiting for adults to take the first step. This is my future and that’s why I’m going to try and change it.

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