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Climate Activist: Young People Can Make a Difference  

Robin Okunowo was spending time with family in the Florida Keys and remembers seeing trash washing ashore. She was 8 years old. 

“It was my first strong memory of when I can remember caring explicitly about the environment,” she said. “It can be something small that encourages you to do climate work in the future. I like telling the story because it is simple, tangible, has guided my career along the way and stuck with me.” 

Today Ms. Okunowo works for the Captain Planet Foundation, founded in 1991, where she is the program coordinator of Planeteer Alliance, helping support the work of young climate activists. Ms. Okunowo visited campus this week, participating in classes ranging from College-Level Environmental Science to Topics in Ethical Theory. On Tuesday night, January 9, she met with students in the Norton Family Center for the Common Good as part of 2024 Martin Luther King Week programming at Loomis Chaffee. The event was a collaboration between the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Center and the Alvord Center for Global & Environmental Studies. 

Ms. Okunowo graduated from Dickinson College in 2021 with a dual major in environmental studies and philosophy. In a school feature called “Student Snapshot” in 2019 she said those majors “combined her interests in environmental responsibility, justice and virtues.” 

After visiting the ethics class at Loomis, she talked about why she remains upbeat and hopeful about climate work. “People are doing the work, and every generation is coming out stronger and with more tools to do the work — and really good work,” she said. “So, I am never focused on doom and gloom because I don't think that is encouraging for anyone. I love to talk about how people have agency in terms of climate change and how we as young people are so influential and powerful within our spheres of influence.” 

At Tuesday night’s event Ms. Okunowo packed a lot into an hour. She told the filled room about Planeteer Alliance, which is organized into four elements — earth, fire, wind, water — and heart, which is about equity and justice in all climate action. The four elements were labeled on blank pieces of paper on the walls, and she asked students to find one that they were drawn to and why it resonated with them. Groups of students went to each area, and after writing on the pieces of paper, came back together as one large group and discussed everything from food deserts to unsuitable drinking water, from pollution to massive storms.  

Robin Okunowo with students at the Norton Center January 9.

Robin Okunowo: "Young people are passing legislation, young people are protesting, young people are boycotting and are making a huge difference, and all of you can do the same. Hopefully, you see yourself somewhere in the climate story.”  

Ms. Okunowo also took questions, and throughout the evening she encouraged and emboldened the students. She talked about young people around the world who have made a difference. 

“We are in the midst of an important time,” she said. “You all have incredibly more power than you know. Young people are passing legislation, young people are protesting, young people are boycotting and are making a huge difference, and all of you can do the same. Hopefully, you see yourself somewhere in the climate story.”  

She also spoke of Martin Luther King, widely known for his efforts in civil rights and social justice and lesser known for his efforts in environmental justice. The latter was what Dr. King was fighting for when he was assassinated in 1968. He had gone to Memphis, Tenn., to participate with Black sanitation workers in protesting polluted and hazardous work conditions.   

When the Planeteer Alliance evokes heart, it does so with conviction. The alliance’s website says it “centers the heart issue in all we do — leading with hope and empathy; acknowledging where injustices exist; inviting and amplifying voices that have been silenced and marginalized (including youth).” 

The youth in the Norton Center were engaged on this night.  

“At the end of the day,” Ms. Okunowo said, “if you walk away with anything, it is important to bring that just and empathetic aspect into all you do.”    


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