'People don’t really care about islands – we have to care about ourselves’ – climate activist
The Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute’ssecond annual Youth Climate Summit starts today and reporter Sekou Hendrickson sat down with two presenters to discuss their experiences in the field.
From a young age, activist Rayne Sullivan understood the necessity to protect the environment – and the challenges he would face as a young man of colour.
The 26-year-old Hawaiian native said that his island upbringing had highlighted how intertwined society was with nature and the problems that the world, particularly island nations, would face if it went unprotected.
But he added that the lack of diversity he faced in the environmental sector was “profoundly challenging and bothering” to him.
Mr Sullivan said: “The space is overwhelmingly White – I see it all the time when I talk to people and they hear about my background.
“We come into this conversation dealing with the destruction of heritage, of culture, of land and other existential crises – and on top of that you have to deal with racism. It’s an assault on all fronts.”
Mr Sullivan is an executive adviser at the Oxford Artificial Intelligence Society, where he helped develop the company’s initiative on inclusion and diversity.
His work on nature-based technology and environmental law has also led to opportunities, such as representing the US in the Sustainable Ocean Alliance’s Youth Policy Advisory Council.
Mr Sullivan said a challenge with being one of few people of colour in a predominantly White space was that he became an unwitting example for his community.
He added that, because of passive racism, he was often overlooked at meetings and summits.
Mr Sullivan explained that he attended a similar event when he visited Milan, Italy, to represent the US in the Youth4Climate Summit last year.
“I was on the aircraft and talking to one of the stewardesses and she was like, ‘You? You represent the United States?’
“I even encountered that at the venue – they’d kind of blow you off until they read your badge.”
Mr Sullivan said that it was important for people from island communities to get involved because their experience gave them a unique outlook on climate change.
He added that they would be the ones affected first and most drastically, and that it was the community’s duty to defend itself.
“At the end of the day, people don’t really care about islands – we have to care about ourselves.
“We have to be an advocate for ourselves because no one will be a stronger advocate than we will be for our communities.”
Andrew Fagerheim, a cofounder of the Central New York Youth Climate Summit, told The Royal Gazette that he became invested in climate change partially because of the people involved.
He added that, thanks to a strong sense of community, he never found it difficult to stay or remain hopeful.
Mr Fagerheim said: “The biggest thing is knowing that I’m not alone in any project that I’m working on.
“That feeling of being able to work with friends – people that I respected and knew and trusted – was really valuable.”
Mr Fagerheim, 20, has led multiple youth-driven climate action projects, and last year spoke at the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, as a delegate for The Wild Centre’s Youth Climate Programme.
He said that he got started in high school when he joined the school’s environmental club.
Mr Fagerheim added that, as he worked with others, he noticed that he was making a difference.
He said: “One of the things my environmental club did was start a youth climate summit for our area.
“It started with maybe 75 students from eight districts in the area, but I think recently they’ve gotten closer to 150, so it’s slowly growing.”
Mr Fagerheim added: “Because climate change intersects with so many things in our lives, we can find a more fulfilling way to get involved.
“I think it’s much easier to find motivation for what you’re doing if it’s something you already enjoy.”