The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled the federal government’s first-ever youth advisory council to help solve the global climate crisis and ensure equitable outcomes for Black and brown communities.
The National Environmental Youth Advisory Council comprises 16 members between 16 and 29 and includes diverse young leaders representing Black and brown communities in the environmental space.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan told theGrio that the historic advisory council was intentional for the Biden-Harris administration to bring young people and minority communities to the table as a brain trust to collectively address the rising threats of the climate crisis and other environmental harms.
“President [Joe] Biden has said from day one that we needed a diverse coalition, including young people, to help us come up with the best solutions for today’s challenges,” said Regan.
“I think we all can recognize that young people have been at the forefront of every major movement in society, whether it be political or social change,” he continued, “and the environmental movement is no different.”
The advisory council represents 10 regions designated by EPA, including urban, rural, and tribal communities. Members hail from 13 states and Washington, D.C.
Weighing things such as race, ethnicity, gender, and even political views, Regan said the EPA was intentional about who was handpicked from the more than 1,500 applicants.
National Environmental Youth Advisory Council member Wawa Gatheru, a native of Philadelphia, told theGrio she is eager to get to work with her colleagues and Regan to “represent the voices and concerns of youth of color, in particular, who have for so long been left out.”
The 24-year-old entrepreneur got involved in environmentalism as a teenager after learning about the environmental justice movement from a curriculum created by her high school teacher.
“[It] showed me that the climate crisis was not this far-off issue, but it was actually a lot more personal, and that it not only creates new problems but exacerbates every existing social ill,” she said.
Gatheru is the CEO of Black Girl Environmentalist, an organization she created to empower and resource “early-career Black women and Black gender-expansive folks in the climate sector and movement.”
Black Girl Environmentalist began as an Instagram page in January 2021, but as it expanded its digital community, the Rhodes scholar decided to build out the national organization.
As the federal government makes historic investments and commitments toward environmental justice, Gatheru said communities need to know how to access the available funding. As a youth advisory council member, she also wants to ensure that Black and brown lives are centered, both in conversations and policy.
“We’re all weathering the same storm that is a climate crisis, but we’re not all in the same boat,” she explained. “It’s so important that environmental justice and participatory justice is emphasized in these processes.”
Young people have been at the forefront of the climate and environmental movement, leading mass marches across the country and, at times, bringing them to the gates of the White House. Young activists have also been critical of the Biden-Harris administration, urging officials to do more to avert the continual warming of the planet as more natural disasters decimate Black, brown, poor, and rural communities.
Regan told theGrio he and the administration welcome the critical voices of young people.
“We hope that the young people will challenge us in a way that produces better solutions, better products. After all, we’re solving the climate crisis; we are addressing climate anxiety for their futures,” he shared. “They should have a seat at the table, and they should be a part of this future vision that we are shaping.”
The National Environmental Youth Advisory Council will meet at least twice yearly starting in 2024. Regan, who noted “this will be a true partnership,” said he would sit down with members to determine their first orders of business but shared that priorities will include climate change, environmental justice, conservation, air quality, and access to clean water.
The administrator shared that he will also rely on the young leaders to reach demographics and communities that he and Biden “can’t reach easily” in helping to educate them about climate and environmental issues.
“We hope to [rely on] not only their intellectual capacity but their social media prowess, their ability to communicate, educate, and disseminate information,” he said.
Gatheru said forming the advisory council is a “great step” by the Biden-Harris administration and that she appreciates how intentional officials have been in engaging young people, including hosting various roundtables with youth across the country.
While “youth washing” is something she said often occurs in the climate space, so far, she said the administration has shown signs that they want to make sure “our voices are actually influencing and that we have this reciprocal relationship where we’re all working together.”
“They have a lot of opportunities here to help the Biden administration really cement some of the ideas and efforts that we’re putting forth,” said Regan, who noted that the president “has not been shy” about doing what is necessary to combat the climate crisis.
“He has worked with Congress to produce the largest amount of resources ever put to tackling the climate crisis. We’re talking about billions of dollars that will impact a trillion-plus dollar economy,” he continued. “It’s vital that young people have a seat at the table as we implement our policies or regulations.”
Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.
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