Part 3 of the TED Radio Hour episode Climate Mindset
For some youth, being part of the solution means focusing their entire lives on the climate crisis. For Xiye Bastida, a 17-year-old climate justice activist, there is no hope without action.
About Xiye Bastida
Xiye Bastida is a climate justice activist based in New York City, and one of the lead organizers of the Fridays For Future youth climate strike movement. She sits on the administration committee of the Peoples Climate Movement, where she brings the voice of youth to existing grassroots and climate organizations. She is also a coordinator for the Re-Earth Initiative.
In 2018, she was invited to the 9th United Nations World Urban Forum to speak about indigenous cosmology. She received the "Spirit of the UN" award in 2018. For the March 2019 climate strike, she mobilized 600 students from her school. Since then she has taken a citywide leadership role in organizing climate strikes and speaking out about climate justice issues in rallies and town halls. Bastida has also launched a youth activism training program to expand the climate justice movement and is a member of Sunrise Movement and Extinction Rebellion.
Bastida was born and raised in Mexico as part of the Otomi-Toltec indigenous peoples.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose earth?
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Our earth.
UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Whose water?
MANOUSH ZOMORODI, HOST:
So what does stubborn optimism actually look like? Like, what does it mean to be part of the solution? Well, for some young people...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Hi, guys.
ZOMORODI: ...It's about focusing their entire lives on the issue of climate change.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We're asking them to give $1 billion to - basically, to help for more sustainable jobs.
ZOMORODI: Like the students in Beacon High school's environmental club in New York City.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: So we wanted to start with a little debrief. I think we're just going to kind of go over, like, what we've been doing and-or what you've been doing, if it was anything related to the environment, you know, dying, that you want to share. So anyone...
ZOMORODI: We went to visit them a couple months ago, back when the kids were still in school.
So talk to me about when you first started hearing about climate change and things like that, right? Like, what were you feeling?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: For me, what freaked me out the most was, in science class, just seeing pictures of how much glaciers were disappearing. And to me, that was the moment where I was really like, wow, this is happening rapidly. It is truly horrifying to me.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: It's something that sits, you know, on me and makes me feel like I can't get up.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: And I think it's even more, like, a weight on our shoulders that we have to be the ones to deal with it because we can't really, like, go back and fix our parents' and grandparents' mistakes.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: It's, like, how unfair is it to us that the future that we're given is - like, they got to live their lives, pursue their career paths, get married, have kids. And then you think about your future and your life, and it's like, all of us have talked with each other about wanting to be good dads and wanting our grandchildren to be able to, like, live in a safe, healthy world. And then we have to fight to break even, I guess.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: By the time we even get to the positions that these adults in power are in, it's frankly just going to be too late.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #9: We need adults who have means to support the youth.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #10: Join us. And, like, come out with us and organize with us.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #11: Recycle. Take time out of your day to research, like, the issues. Find a local town hall that you can sit in and, like, just educate yourself.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #12: What really helped me, what really calmed me down was, like, coming to these meetings and just talking to other people who care about the same things that I care about and who are fighting for the same cause.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #13: We really all have to come together and really have to put our heads together and our bodies together and take this on together because it seems like such an insurmountable thing, and it is, but the only chance we have is if we really come together and really listen to the science and read the science and believe it.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #14: It has to be an everyday thing. And a lot of people don't realize that in order to make actual change, you have to keep going.
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ZOMORODI: And now that the Beacon High School activists are all stuck at home, they're organizing online with other young people as part of the youth climate movement.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #15: Hey. Long time no see, everyone.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #16: Hey. It's nice to see you again.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #17: You as well.
ZOMORODI: And I am talking about countless Slack channels, Zoom calls.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #18: I think you're muted (laughter).
ZOMORODI: Hours and hours of planning virtual events.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #19: Party was too good to stay away.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #20: This is a party. This is a huge party. This is the biggest party we've had all day.
ZOMORODI: Like Earth Day in April.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #21: I'm so glad everyone can make it to talk with us today. So why don't we just get started?
ZOMORODI: They organized three days of talks, workshops, performances and conversations with policymakers.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #22: Hello, everybody. We are here with the icon...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #22: ...Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #23: Mayor Michael Tubbs from Stockton, Calif.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #24: It's so great to be in conversation with you.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #25: How do you see the linkage between the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis pandemic?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #26: How has quarantine changed your activism?
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #27: Well, that's a great question.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #28: I guess I'll start.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #29: My hope is that people will...
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #30: These are really good points that I will keep in mind so that...
ZOMORODI: One Beacon High School student at the center of all this is Xiye Bastida.
XIYE BASTIDA: My name is Xiye Bastida, and I am a 17-year-old climate justice activist. I know that a lot of people look at me in the hallways and say, like, oh, the climate girl or whatever. But what I'm seeing is that we inspire others through action and through example because there is no hope without action.
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ZOMORODI: In just a minute, Xiye Bastida talks about staying optimistic while dealing with the pressures on young climate activists. On the show today, the mindset to face the climate crisis. It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Manoush Zomorodi. Stay with us.
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ZOMORODI: It's the TED Radio Hour from NPR. I'm Manoush Zomorodi. On the show today - can we make the psychological shift we need to fight climate change?
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ZOMORODI: We were just hearing from Xiye Bastida about all the work that goes into helping lead the youth climate movement. It's a lot of pressure for a 17-year-old.
BASTIDA: There was a long time where I would have three or four calls a day.
ZOMORODI: Mmm hmm.
BASTIDA: And I would run to meetings, and I would, you know, do my homework late at night and sleep for four hours and get on calls. Because I needed to call Germany, so I had to get on a call in the middle of the night.
BASTIDA: And I was just exhausting myself because I thought that the world was on my shoulders. And the beauty of this movement is that there are so many kids who are willing to do work that you don't have to do all the work yourself. You can ask others to go to the meeting. You can ask others to run the social media. And sharing the responsibility makes us way stronger than trying to do everything yourself.
ZOMORODI: It means you have to share the limelight, though, doesn't it?
BASTIDA: Oh, yeah.
ZOMORODI: You're OK with that, even, like - I don't know - in the era of Instagram?
BASTIDA: Oh, like, honestly, the more people who get a platform for climate activism, the better. Because this is something that is going to last for a very long time. This fight is going to last a very long time. So we can't get too tired, and then put it in this little box in our minds and think that we can just keep on going like we are. And the way in which I deal with it is, what I want to see the world do, I do myself.
ZOMORODI: Mmm hmm.
BASTIDA: So it's kind of leading by example with me and all the other climate activists. When we organize, there is no hierarchy. We just do it through consensus. And it is harder, and it's more time. But things turn out better because we listen to everybody. And we listen to all the different points of view. And I love having friends who are climate activists because then we can share our feelings with each other. For example, I told my friends the other day I was, the first time in seven months, at the beach. And I was just sitting there hearing the ocean and thinking, for the first time ever, actually thinking, my kids are never going to be on the beach because we're going to have flooding, and the ocean is going to come up all the way to the streets. But beaches take thousands of years to form. So that was the first time which I thought, are my kids ever going to see a beach or be on an island? And these are the type of things that I can share with my friends. And they will say, this is what we have to kick ass harder (laughter). You know, this is why we have to share how we feel. Because stories touch people, and data doesn't.
ZOMORODI: You said there's power in stories, so let's talk about your story. What is your background? How did you first even start thinking about climate change?
BASTIDA: So my family background is crazy. My mom is Chilean. My dad is Mexican. But I was born in the highlands of Mexico in this small town, about 10,000 people, called San Pedro Tultepec. And that means the town of tule, which is this plant that you can weave...
BASTIDA: ...And make things out of. And that's what my grandfather did his whole life, aside from playing music. And so I was raised with this understanding that we had to take care of our surroundings and that we had to thank the earth for everything that it's providing us.
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BASTIDA: I remember when I was younger, and my family and I would go in the highlands of central Mexico by the lake to eat lunch.
ZOMORODI: Xiye Bastida continues her story on the TED stage.
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BASTIDA: My mom would take out the food that we brought. And I would particularly remember her taking out tortillas. And so the prayer would begin. Thank you to Mother Earth for gifting us with air, water and the places for our food to grow. Thank you to the hands who planted the seeds. Thank you to the hands who harvested the corn. Thank you to the hands who made the tortillas and for the transportation that it took for all of us to come together and share this beautiful moment. That is how I grew up, with a mindset that we have to thank everything. We have to thank the Earth because it gives us everything we need to live. It gives us shelter, food, and all that it asks is that we protect.
And to grow up with that love for the Earth...
BASTIDA: ...That reciprocity and that reciprocal love and understanding was just how my whole world was depicted to me. And when you grow up, you think that everybody thinks the same way that you do. And when you understand that people don't, that's when your bubble gets, like...
BASTIDA: ...You know, popped.
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BASTIDA: I also remember when I was driving by el Rio Lerma. It's the most polluted river in Mexico. And it's right by my hometown. I was driving by it with my dad. And we had to drive with the windows up because the smell would be so bad due to the toxins. And he told me, you know, I used to be able to bathe in this river when I was your age. In one generation, the river went from being a source of life beauty and culture to being one of the most neglected places in our community. How does that happen?
ZOMORODI: You're talking about different generations in your family - yours, your father's, your grandfather's. And it makes me think of this question that every generation has, which is, you know, will things be better for the next generation? And most of us think, well, yes, of course, they will. But now maybe that's not necessarily true.
BASTIDA: Yeah. I think that people who I know, like, their grandparents struggled to get under feet. The parents did a better job. And now we're here, and we're getting this great education, but I don't know if my kids are going to have the childhood that I had. How does - how do you tell your kid that the planet is ending? And I think that's a question that I've gotten from parents. When do I start telling my kid about the climate crisis?
ZOMORODI: They're asking you that?
BASTIDA: Yeah. They're asking me that, as if I have an answer. And I don't think I have an answer because I would never want to do that to a kid. And your childhood kind of ends when you find out because then you have to do something about it because so much of the hope is placed on us.
ZOMORODI: I mean, that doesn't seem very fair that adults are coming to you and asking you what they can do that. I mean, the tables are turned there. That's a humongous responsibility.
BASTIDA: And that is why we're trying to shift the conversation to intergenerational cooperation. So it's actually about telling adults we want to work with you. We want you to have internships for us. We want you to open your doors for us to come in and have a say. We cannot waste our time blaming each other. We have to come together and know that we can support each other to move forward. I love the saying that says we don't inherit the land from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children. If we have that thinking every time, then I am thinking right now I'm going to take care of this Earth for my children. And then my children are going to think the same. And it's this very basic notion of you leave the place in which you are better than how you found it.
ZOMORODI: That's Xiye Bastida. She is a youth climate activist. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.