The impact of climate change
We are finding, coaching and training public media’s next generation. This #nprnextgenradio project is created in Oregon, where five talented reporters are participating in a week-long state-of-the-art training program.
In this project we are highlighting the experiences of people whose lives are being affected by climate change.
Venus Edlin speaks with Adah Crandall, a young environmental organizer in Portland, Oregon who wants to secure a better future for her generation. The 16-year-old has been an activist since seventh grade, brought to action by the smog and pollution that shrouded her middle school. She tells us about her frustrations with the previous generations’ lack of action and her experiences organizing.
Illustration by Yunyi Dai
Portland teen fights climate change to create a better future
When Adah Crandall would stand in the playground of her middle school, all she could see was the freeway and diesel trucks going by, that image had a profound impact on her life.
The 16-year-old climate activist in Portland, Oregon is just like other teenage girls, who enjoy painting their nails and riding their bike. However, unlike most teenage girls, she spends most of her time fighting for a better future.
PORTLAND TEEN FIGHTS CLIMATE CHANGE
Adah Crandall lives near Irving Park in Northeast Portland. The park is near her middle school and where city officials plan to expand Interstate Highway 5. (Photo Credit: Venus Edlin)
Crandall’s bag is covered with buttons from her causes as well as a few of her other favorite things. Since she bikes more often during the summer, she has a spot for it in her bike’s basket. (Photo Credit: Venus Edlin)
Her activism began in seventh grade at Harriet Tubman Middle school, located next to Interstate 5. The effects of the pollution were undeniable as the smog infiltrated their classrooms and her peers described the negative health effects. Crandall recalled one of her friends being re-diagnosed with asthma after attending the middle school.
“It didn’t really feel like we had a choice,” Crandall said. “Because if you’re a seventh grader, and you learn there’s a freeway next to your school that has pollution that’s been linked to asthma and lung cancer, and the Department of Transportation wants to widen it literally into the hillside that your playground is on, you’re not just going to stand there and do nothing.”
Crandall is not alone in her worries. According to the Climate Change and Youth Mental Health Study released by the Oregon Health Authority in June, 59% of 10,000 youth surveyed reported feeling very or extremely worried about climate change. 84% were at least moderately worried. Many others reported feeling sad, helpless and afraid, the results also showed.
Adah Crandall, right, hands a megaphone to her grandmother, Mary Kennedy, at the Portland Climate Strike, which started at city hall on March 2022. The strike’s theme was multi-generational climate action. (Photo courtesy of Adah Crandall )
With the help of a teacher, Crandall and her peers started learning more about the effects of pollution and began showing up to policy meetings.
“We would go into these rooms of all these bureaucrats,” Crandall said. “We were tiny kids with our sneakers and backpacks who didn't really know what was going on, but we knew that we didn't want a freeway expanded into the backyard of our middle school. People started paying attention to us.”
After partnering with Neighbors for Clean Air, the students traveled to the capital to back House Bill 2007.
“The bill ended up passing, which was really exciting,” Crandall said. “(It was) sort of the first moment that I realized as young people, we have a voice and we can make a difference in these big government decisions that are happening.”
When Crandall heard of plans to expand I-5, she and her peers started an Environmental Justice Club at their school. They partnered with the organization No More Freeways to lobby against the “Keep Oregon Moving” house bill which would fund the expansion. However, the bill passed and the expansion is slated to begin in 2023. Transportation is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions in the state at 40%, according to data from the Oregon Department of Energy.
In March, Crandall attended the 2022 Portland Climate Strike with her parents and grandma. She described how fulfilling it was to see the adults close to her, as well as those outside of her family, involved in climate organizing.
“It was very strange to be running around with a megaphone with this sort of separate world of people that I met, and there's my grandma, also with a megaphone trying to lead a chant,” Crandall said. “It was a very sweet moment.”
Through the organization and her other activism efforts, Adah got involved with the Portland chapter of the Sunrise Movement, a youth climate group. Now, they are focusing on protesting against the Oregon Department of Transportation.
Though protests outside of the ODOT building were at first small, with just Adah and a few of her peers, they have since grown after gaining national attention.
“It literally started because of a Slack message of someone being like, ‘I want to sit outside the ODOT building every other week in protest of the freeway expansion,’” Adah said. “Now, we've had like 70 people showing up at our rallies consistently, which I think is really a testament to the power that some determined young people have, who have a collective reason to be fighting for these things.”
Adah Crandall (second row far right) and other young climate activists stand behind Gov. Kate Brown, while she gives her victory speech after being re-elected in 2018. A few years later, Crandall and other youth organizers protested outside of Brown’s house to call attention to unfulfilled climate promises. (Video footage by KGW.com)
When the Gov. Kate Brown gave her victory speech, Crandall was one of many young activists that was behind Brown as she spoke. However, Crandall also described traveling to Salem, Oregon to protest outside of the governor’s house several years later after she did not uphold her climate promises. At a later date, Brown told Sunrise PDX that if she knew young activists were protesting, she would have given them cookies.
“We were asking you to take action on climate and give us a livable future and you're offering us cookies,” Crandall said.
For Crandall, this experience with the governor was emblematic of many experiences she has had with adults and how her role as a young organizer is misunderstood. While she is often described as inspiring, she wishes that those who were inspired by her would be motivated to participate. Afterall, while she enjoys the work, Crandall would much rather hang out with her friends than have to worry about the future impacts of climate change on her life.
“This is a result of the failure of past generations who are still the majority of the time not standing with us in this fight,” Crandall said.
Adah Crandall shows off her painted nails, a rare sight since she enjoys painting them but not wearing the polish out. Since she is busy organizing for climate issues, she does not have as much time as she wishes to do regular teenage activities like painting her nails. (Photo Credit: Venus Edlin)
Adah Crandall walks her bike through Irving Park in Portland. While bussing is her main way of transportation, biking is her second option of choice. (Photo Credit: Venus Edlin)
Adah Candall: As a young person, I wish that the weight of fighting to stop the climate crisis did not fall on my generation.
My name is Adah Crandall, I am 16 years old and I am an organizer with Sunrise PDX and Portland Youth Climate Strike.
This crisis is the fault of past generations who knew that we needed to take action on climate, who knew that we needed to do things differently, and that has led us to where we are today where there are literal teenagers who are walking out of school and spending our free time on Zoom meetings, organizing protests, which shouldn't be our responsibility to do.
We should be able to trust that the people in power will act with our futures in mind.
So, in seventh grade, I attended Harriet Tubman Middle School, which is right next to one of the busiest parts of the Interstate Five Freeway.
You would walk outside to recess and you would see it, you could smell it, you could hear it on bad days, we could see smog in the air.
It just felt very dystopian.
Everyone's sort of, like, acting like that's all normal, and it's so very not normal!
We decided that we needed to do something about it.
Students from Tubman that Spring went to Salem, and we lobbied our legislators to support a bill.
We were like a bunch of middle schoolers going and talking to these bureaucrats with, like, our sneakers and backpacks and like sitting at a table where like my feet couldn't even touch the ground.
We felt very out of place, but also like, in a way, like, we had a right to be there because we had a right to have our voices heard.
The Kate Brown story is kind of interesting.
When she was elected, originally, she had all of these young people stand on the stage behind her.
I was one of those kids and I was standing on the stage behind her clapping and cheering. And then a couple of years later, I was standing in her driveway at a Sunrise protest giving a speech about how she was failing on the climate promises that she made.
Then, a couple of months later, Sunrise PDX, was able to get a meeting with Governor Brown.
She told us that if she had known that we were protesting outside of her house, she would have offered us cookies, which is like, like… like, what? We’re asking you to take action on climate and give us a livable future, and you're offering us cookies?
It's just a very bizarre, like, disconnect between politicians and how they think of youth organizers.
Part of the reason I continue to do this is definitely rooted in the responsibility I feel and the fear that I feel for my future. Because if we're already witnessing devastating heat waves and wildfires and droughts in my lifetime, then we know that those things are only going to continue to get worse. And I don't want to inherit that future.
My parents have always been supportive of the work that I do. During the 2022 Portland city-wide climate strike, they came and joined all of the young people out in the streets.
It was cool to see, like, my parents talking to, like, my organizing friends’ parents, and my grandma, like, attempting to yell chants into a megaphone. And my mom filming it and laughing at her. And it was just a very sweet moment of sort of, like, different generations coming together.
Whenever people ask me, like, what gives you hope in this movement, and like, what makes you keep fighting, it ultimately is because of the people that I have surrounded myself by, like, my fellow organizers give me hope, because it reminds me that I'm not alone in this fight.
And that makes us very powerful.