Vic Barrett, 19
Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, Vic Barrett saw the multiplicity of her identity and how the different forms were vulnerable to marginalization. She spent her formative years practicing community-building and resilience, most notably in 2015 as one of the 21 plaintiffs, aged 10 to 21, in Juliana vs. The United States.
As an activist, Barrett is intentional about intersectionality in her work; she represents marginalized voices at international conferences and has addressed the United Nations General Assembly on the topic of youth involvement on the Sustainable Development Goals. Barrett notes that people just aren’t willing to address issues, such as poverty, racism, and other societal plagues,unless they impact them personally. Barrett believes that those who do not feel the effects of these issues also hold most of the wealth in the world population. Barrett’s advocacy in climate justice is the product of other work on issues that strike a personal note, such as class and racial justice, themes she often notices manifest themselves in the fight for addressing climate change.
Barrett uses writing as a medium to organize her thoughts into a concise form of genuine expression. When writing an essay on resilience for her delegate application to attend the COP 24, Barrett had an awakening to how resilience has been an integral and necessary part of her life, which entirely changed Barrett’s outlook on her activism.
Barrett attends University of Madison-Wisconsin on a full scholarship and intends to pursue a career in politics. Her essays have been published in educational magazines and websites and on Medium.
A Sustainable Future Begins with Education in the Present
by Vic Barrett
Originally published in the Green Schools Catalyst Quarterly Fall 2017
Education is something that is supposed to last someone a lifetime. We gather a wealth of information on subjects like math, English, sciences, and social studies. Just like the problems our world is facing, these subjects overlap and intersect in many ways. We learn to connect the subjects throughout our educational endeavors and we are expected to think critically to make connections between multiple disciplines.
There is no reason that this ability to make connections shouldn’t be fostered by educational institutions as a way to encourage students to adjust the world around them to be more sustainable and ready to support our generation’s needs. Global sustainability encompasses many issues, such as protecting the environment, mitigating poverty, improving health care, and preserving marine life. We need to be able to maintain the quality of life on Earth for future generations. Ensuring that the world can be resilient to the issues it is facing is of utmost importance and school is the perfect place to teach that to youth.
As students, we spend six hours a day in school, five days a week, for the majority of our key developmental years. Educational systems have the ability to make a widespread impact on the values that students hold dear. Students can identify issues that are most important to them with the assurance that any actions taken to address just one issue can have a widespread impact and mitigate more than one of the problems we’re facing. Developing students who will contribute to making our world sustainable doesn’t only impact global sustainability, but impacts the lives of the students and their local communities. We don’t have to examine huge problems with our planet to fix them. We can minimize problems and manage them when we act within our own communities and do what we can to promote sustainability locally.
I saw this demonstrated firsthand in Far Rockaway, New York. Students my age would go out to their local beaches and survey the plant life to determine what was ecologically friendly and what was not. They also grew plants in certain areas to create stronger natural barriers between the water and their community. This was an after-school program of only about 15 students, but imagine efforts like that on a large scale. Imagine hundreds if not thousands of students taking part in an activity that is not only beneficial to the planet, but it is highly educational and impacts the quality of life in their own community in a really positive way.
Learning about our planet’s resilience and about how to preserve and ensure environments that sustain human life provides students with motivation to change what they see wrong in the realities of this world. The most common question I get asked by my peers when it comes to issues of sustainable development is, "Well, what can I do?" This is an important question that can be answered for so many students if schools created a curriculum around global sustainable development. Students can’t be expected to act on issues that they can’t understand and that are usually painted as large scale, unsolvable problems.
Schools are often the centers of communities; because of this, they have an obligation to develop curriculum around the sustainability of the communities their students live in. If a school in Queens or the South Bronx creates a curriculum that teaches students about how high asthma rates impact their communities, and teaches them that pollution in their area perpetuates high asthma rates, then students are going to be motivated to figure out important questions like, "Why our community?"; "What are our representatives doing?"; "What direct actions can we take that stop this issue?"
School is where young people first learn to create things that we build in our minds. It’s where we learn how to express our thoughts and imagination as words, or splatters of paint, or buildings made out of blocks. That creativity, combined with sustainability as a core principle of a school’s curriculum, is perfect to encourage the innovative ideas this generation and future ones will need to adapt to our ever changing planet. School is where we begin to value relationships and interact with the world around us. Those initial lessons of human connection and experience, combined with a curriculum that has sustainability and resilience as core principles, can help to create generations of increasingly aware youth who have the ability to empathize with people all over the world who are being impacted by issues like climate change, and be selfless enough to feel motivated to fix these issues.