TEEN CLIMATE ACTIVIST ON URGENCY OF ACTING ON CLIMATE CHANGE

At 19, Jerome Foster II is the youngest White House Advisor ever. In March he was appointed to President Joe Biden’s Environmental Justice Advisory Council. He was a keynote speaker at the COP26 Conference in Glasgow. Tonight he joins us to talk about the impact of climate change on the world, particularly marginalized peoples. Join us for this important discussion on the policies he’s advocating for within the Biden administration and on why he believes Generation Z is the generation most impacted by the climate crisis.

Aired on November 18, 2021.

Peril and Promise is an ongoing series of reports on the human impact of, and solutions for, Climate Change. Lead funding for Peril and Promise is provided by Dr. P. Roy Vagelos and Diana T. Vagelos. Major support is provided by Marc Haas Foundation and Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III. 

TRANSCRIPT

> GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS,' I'M JACK FORD.

TODAY'S YOUNG PEOPLE, PARTICULARLY THOSE BELONGING TO GENERATION Z, HAVE GROWN UP INTIMATELY ACQUAINTED WITH THE DRAMATIC EFFECTS OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

PERHAPS IT'S NOT SURPRISING THAT MORE GENERATION HAS BEEN MORE VOCAL ABOUT THE URGENCY OF ACTING NOW ON THE CLIMATE CRISIS.

UNTIL RECENTLY, THAT YOUNGER GENERATION, THE ONE MOST ENGAGED WITH ISSUES SURROUNDING CLIMATE, HAS HAD LITTLE POLITICAL POWER TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT.

BUT THAT APPEARS TO BE CHANGING.

OUR NEXT GUEST IS PART OF A NEW WAVE OF YOUNG LEADERS WHO NOW HAVE A VOICE IN THE PLACES WHERE POLICY DECISIONS ARE MADE, PLACES LIKE THE WHITE HOUSE AND THE RECENT CLIMATE SUMMIT IN SCOTLAND.

JEROME FOSTER II IS AN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ADVISER TO THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION AND AT 19 HE'S THE YOUNGEST WHITE HOUSE ADVISER IN U.S. HISTORY.

HE JOINS US NOW AS PART OF OUR ONGOING PERIL AND PROMISE INITIATIVE, REPORTING ON THE HUMAN STORIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS SOLUTIONS.

JEROME, WELCOME, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING US.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

PLEASURE TO BE HERE.

AND WE'RE GLAD TO BE HERE.

I KNOW YOU'VE HAD A HECTIC FEW WEEKS.

YOU'VE BEEN IN GLASGOW, YOU TALK ABOUT THE WORK YOU'RE DOING WITH THE ADMINISTRATION.

LET ME JUST GIVE PEOPLE A SENSE OF YOU AND YOUR BACKGROUND HERE.

I MENTIONED YOUR AGE.

WHEN AND WHY WAS IT THAT YOU BECAME SO ENGAGED WITH THE STRUGGLE OVER CLIMATE CHANGE?

ABSOLUTELY.

WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE CLIMATE JUSTICE MOVEMENT AND, FOR ME, PERSONALLY, HOW I GOT INVOLVED IS BECAUSE OF THE FACT THAT CLIMATE IS SUCH A PRESSING ISSUE FOR MY GENERATION.

WE'RE GROWING INTO A WORLD THAT WE WERE TOLD WHEN WE WERE YOUNGER IS IN THE PROCESS OF DYING.

WE'VE BEEN GROWING INTO A SYSTEM WHERE A LOT OF THE ENVIRONMENT AROUND US IS CONTINUING TO DESTABILIZE BECAUSE OF WILDFIRES, EARTHQUAKES, SO MANY THINGS THAT ARE CAUSED BY CLIMATE CHANGE.

AND THAT'S KIND OF -- THAT MOMENT THAT WE'RE IN RIGHT NOW IS WHAT ENERGIZED ME TO TAKE ACTION, BECAUSE EVEN THOUGH I'M NOT A COMMUNITY THAT'S BEING IMPACTED WORST BY THE CLIMATE CRISIS, IT WAS THE EMPATHY AND THE COMPASSION OF SEEING COMMON HUMANS THAT WERE HAVING THE SAME EXPERIENCE AND I SAID, I NEED TO OORG NICE AND MAKE SURE THEIR VOICE IS HEARD, AS WELL.

AND WE MENTIONED HOW YOUR GENERATION IS, IN MANY WAYS, THE VOICES THAT NEED TO BE HEARD AND TO DRIVE CHANGE HERE.

I DID MENTION IN THE INTRODUCTION YOU HAD BEEN AT THE SUMMIT IN GLASGOW, YOU SPOKE THERE.

CAN YOU GIVE US JUST A QUICK SUMMARY OF WHAT CAME OUT OF THAT SUMMIT?

SO, THE CONFERENCE HAPPENED IN GLASGOW EARLIER THIS PAST COUPLE OF WEEKS CONCLUDED AND BASICALLY MARGINAL TO NO ACTION.

WHAT -- THE INTENTION OF THE CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES WAS TO REVISIT THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT, WHICH IS -- PRIORITIES WERE FOCUSING ON LIMITING EMISSIONS TO 1.5 DEGREDEGREE S CELSIUS.

WE WANTED TO LIMIT A THAT AND MAKE SURE COUNTRIES WERE HELD TO THAT.

INDIA CAME TO THE CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES AND SAID THEY COULD BE CARBON NEUTRAL BY 2070 WHEN THE GLOBAL CONSENSUS IS 2030, CHINA CAME TO THE CONFERENCE OF THE PARTIES WITH ANOTHER TARGET FOR NET ZERO EMISSIONS BY 2060, AND THAT IS THE BIGGEST STRUGGLE THAT WE'RE TRYING TO GET OVER IS FOR POLITICIANS TO GET -- NOT JUST SAY PRETTY WORDS AND SAY EMPTY SPEECHES AND HOLD THESE SUMMITS, BUT TO PUT THEIR WORDS WHERE THEIR MOUTH IS AND MAKE SURE THAT OUR FUTURE IS SAFE AND WE DON'T HAVE TO CONTINUE TO HAVE THESE CONFERENCES WHERE VERY LITTLE ACTUALLY HAPPENING IN THE END.

IT'S INTERESTING.

I THINK OFTEN TIMES -- I TALK TO OTHER PEOPLE ABOUT THESE CONFERENCES, YOU GOT SOME FOLKS JUST KIND OF ROLLING THEIR EYES SAYS, OH, GREAT, ANOTHER CONFERENCE.

AS YOU SAID, THERE ARE GOOD INTENTIONS.

SOME THINGS, SOME MOVEMENT, BUT CERTAINLY NOT WHAT EVERYBODY HAD ANTICIPATED.

SO, LET'S TALK ABOUT WHAT WE'RE DOING IN THE U.S.

AND LET'S FOCUS A LITTLE BIT -- THROUGH THE FOCUS, IF YOU WILL, OF YOUR INVOLVEMENT, I MENTIONED WITH THE WHITE HOUSE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ADVISORY COU COUNSEL.

TELL US WHAT THAT IS AND THE PURPOSE AND HOPEFULLY THE GOALS OF THAT COUNCIL ARE.

SO, WHITE HOUSE ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE ADVISORY COUNCIL HAS THREE MAIN TARGETS.

THE PRIMARY FOCUS IS FOCUSING ON ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, DISADVANTAGED COMMUNITIES.

IN OUR INFRASTRUCTURE AND FEDERAL AGENCIES, WE HAVE A WHOLE GOVERNMENT APPROACH IN MAKING SURE THAT ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IS PRIORITIZED IN OUR BUDGETING AND HOW WE MOVE FORWARD AS A COUNTRY.

AND WHEN WE TALK ABOUT WHAT THIS COUNCIL IS WORKING ON, OVER THE PAST SEVEN MONTHS THAT WE'VE BEEN WORKING WITH THE BIDEN ADMINISTRATION, WE HAVE WORKED ON CREATING THE JUSTICE 40 INITIATIVE, WHERE WE AS AN ADMINISTRATION THAT MADE A COMMITMENT THAT EVERY FEDERAL AGENCY HAS TO COMMIT 40% OF THEIR BUDGET TO ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE INFRASTRUCTURE PROJECTS.

AND THAT'S ONE OF THE MAJOR PROJECTS THAT WE'RE WORKING ON NOW AND HAVING ANOTHER REALLY CRUCIAL MEETING ON NOVEMBER 17th OF 2021 TO REALLY REVISIT WHAT WORK WE'VE DONE SO FAR AND LOOK AT WHAT THE NEXT SIX MONTHS ARE GOING TO LOOK LIKE FOR THIS ADMINISTRATION.

GIVE US A BETTER SENSE OF THIS NOTION OF ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.

BECAUSE I SUSPECT THAT SOME PEOPLE ARE OUT THERE SAYING, WELL, I UNDERSTAND FIGHTING CLIMATE CHANGE, I UNDERSTAND EMISSIONS AND I UNDERSTAND THE NOTION OF PROVIDING FUNDING FOR THOSE NATIONS WHO WANT TO DO ALL THIS BUT DON'T HAVE THE FINANCIAL RESOURCES TO DO IT, BUT THEY MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE.

WHEN WE BREAK DOWN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, REALLY WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT IS NOT JUST A SCIENTIFIC DILEMMA OR A MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM THAT WE'RE IN THAT WE JUST HAPPEN TO EMIT CO2 IN THE ATMOSPHERE AND NOW IT'S CAUSING HAVOC.

ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IS CONTINUAL DESTABILIZATION OF OUR PLANET AND THE CLIMATE SYSTEMS THAT ARE AROUND IT AND BECAUSE OF THAT, THE GLOBAL SOUTH IS BEING HIT FIRST AND WORTH.

ACROSS SOUTH AMERICA, SOUTHEAST ASIA, THOSE COMMUNITIES ARE BEING HIT RIGHT NOW BY THE CLIMATE CRISIS.

THEY HAVE ENORMOUS AMOUNTS OF EXTREME WEATHER EVENTS THAT HAPPEN EVERY SINGLE YEAR.

AND IN THE GLOBAL NORTH, IN NORTH AMERICA, EUROPE AND MOST OF NORTHERN ASIA, THEY AREN'T SEEING THE MAJOR IMPACTS.

THAT IS WHAT ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IS ALL ABOUT, IS MAKING SURE THAT COUNTRIES HAVE ADMITTED MOST OF THE CO2 IN THE ATMOSPHERE, WHICH ARE FGLOBAL NORTH COUNTRIES, PAY THE DEBT.

COUNTRIES HAVE EMITTED THE LEAST AND CONTRIBUTED THE LEAST TO THIS PROBLEM.

ALSO ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE LOOKING AT A TIMELINE, REALLY BREAKING DOWN WHAT WE'RE FIGHTING FOR, AND LOOKING AT THE PAST, THE PRESENCE AND THE FUTURE.

THE CLIMATE CRISIS STARTED WITH THE INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION, BUT THE MIND-SET OF EXTRACT VICHL STARTED WITH RACISM AND STARTED WITH THE CONCEPT OF COLONIALISM.

WE'RE GOING TO LIMIT EXPLOITING PEOPLE.

NOW WITH THE CLIMATE CRISIS, WE'RE GOING TO EXPLOIT NATURE.

AND THAT'S AN IMMEDIATE THROUGH LINE.

THAT'S WHAT THIS MOVEMENT IS ALL ABOUT.

SAYING, LET'S DECOLONIZE OUR FRAMEWORK OF HOW OUR ECONOMIC SYSTEM WORKS.

MORE ABOUT ETHICAL PRACTICES IN OUR ECONOMICS, IN OUR POLITICS AND IN OUR SOCIETY AT LARGE.

I TALKED ABOUT IN MY INTRODUCTION ABOUT THE POWER OF THE VOICES OF THE YOUTH.

NOT JUST IN OUR COUNTRY, BUT THROUGHOUT THE PLANET, IF YOU WILL.

WHY DO YOU THINK THERE IS -- THERE SEEMS TO BE -- THIS IS A BIT OF A GENERALIZATION, I UNDERSTAND, BUT WHY DO YOU THINK THERE SEEMS TO BE MORE STRENGTH IN TERMS OF THE POWER OF THE YOUNG PEOPLE VERSUS THE POWER OF THE OLDER GENERATION?

I THINK THAT -- WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE YOUTH, A LOT OF PEOPLE ARE CONFUSED ABOUT WHY THERE'S BEEN SO MUCH YOUTH ORGANIZING AND IT'S BECAUSE THE ADULTS HAVE BEEN HERE.

IN THE 1970s, PEOPLE ORGANIZED AND HAD THE BIGGEST EARTH DAY MARCH IN U.S. HISTORY.

SO, THAT WAS YOUTH THAT ORGANIZED IT.

AND WHEN WE TALK ABOUT A SOCIAL MOVEMENT, IT'S ALWAYS BEEN YOUTH.

THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT WHERE CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS SPEARHEADED THE CHANGE THERE.

THE LGBTQ MOVEMENT ORGANIZED IN THE STREETS.

YOUNG PEOPLE UNDERSTAND SYSTEMS, BECAUSE THEY ARE GROWING UP AND SAYING, THE SYSTEM DOESN'T WORK FOR US AND NOT GOING TO WORK FOR OUR FUTURE, SO IT MUST CHANGE.

THAT'S WHY YOUNG PEOPLE ARE ORGANIZING.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS THE BIGGEST PROBLEM HUMANITY HAS EVER FACED, BUT IT'S THE BIGGEST OPPORTUNITY FOR US TO GO TO OUR FOUNDATION AND SAY, WHAT DO WE WANT FROM OUR SYSTEM AND WHAT DO WE WANT OUR WORLD TO LOOK LIKE?

AND YOUNG PEOPLE UNDERSTAND THAT BETTER THAN ANYONE CAN, BECAUSE WE ARE JUST BEING ACCLIMATED TO A SYSTEM THAT WHERE WE'RE GOING UP TO BECOME A PART OF.

LET ME COME BACK FOR A MOMENT TO THE GLASGOW SUMMIT AND YOU TALKED ABOUT THE FRUSTRATIONS AND YOU'VE SEEN A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO WERE PARTICIPATING THERE AND ESSENTIALLY SAID THE SAME FRUSTRATIONS.

WE CAME WITH CERTAIN GOALS AND ALL OF A SUDDEN, YOU CHANGE A WORD HERE OR CHANGE A WORD THERE AND YOU THINK A WORD WOULD NOT BE THAT SIGNIFICANT AND IMPACT CHANGE, AND THEY ARE.

YES.

DID YOU COME AWAY FROM THAT FEELING ANY SENSE OF OPTIMISM THAT, OKAY, WE DIDN'T GET DONE THIS TIME IN GLASGOW WHAT WE WANTED TO GET DONE, BUT WE SEEM TO MAYBE BE CREATING SOME MOMENTUM SO MAYBE THE NEXT TIME IT MIGHT HAPPEN.

DO YOU HAVE ANY SENSE OF OPTIMISM?

I THINK THAT RIGHT NOW THE WORD ISN'T OPTIMISM.

IT'S FRUSTRATION.

IF YOU CONTINUE TO HAVE HOPELESS OPTIMISM, WHAT'S THE GOAL IN THAT?

WHAT'S THE PRODUCTIVITY IN THAT?

RIGHT NOW IT'S FRUSTRATION AND REALLY JUST BEING DISAPPOINTED IN THE PEOPLE THAT WE LOOK TO AND VOTED FOR.

RIGHT NOW, ALL ACROSS THE WORLD, WORLD LEADERS WERE SUPPOSED TO COME TOGETHER AND HAVE A CONFERENCE, TWO WEEKS TO NEGOTIATE WHAT THE WORLD LOOKS LIKE.

BUT INSTEAD THEY DID NOTHING.

WE HAD THREE DEMANDS.

LIMIT WARMING TO 1.5 DEGREES CELSIUS, WHICH WOULD HAVE US IN A SEMISAFE CLIMATE.

TWO, STOP THE CREATION OF COAL MINES AND STOP THE USAGE OF FOSSIL FUELS AND THREE IS TO END ALL SUBSIDIES TO THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY.

C COP26 DID NONE OF THOSE.

WHEN IT TRIED TO REACH ENDING SUBSIDIES FOR THE FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY, IT WAS WEAKENED, IT ADDED EXTRA WORDS SAYING INEFFICIENT FOSSIL FUEL SUBSIDIES AND THOSE THAT WEREN'T INEFFICIENT, SOMETIMES MAY SEEM LIKE IT'S NOT REALLY IMPORTANT, BUT IT'S INCREDIBLY CRUCIAL, BECAUSE EVERY COUNTRY IS GOING TO SAY THEIR FOSSIL FUEL PRODUCTION IS EFFICIENT WHEN IT REALLY ISN'T, SO, THAT'S REALLY THE STRUGGLE THAT WE'RE IN NOW.

COP27, WE AREN'T TALKING ABOUT COP27 NOW, COP26 JUST ENDED, IT'S A COMPLETE DISAPPOINTMENT AND YOUNG PEOPLE ARE STILL WATCHING THIS.

AND BECAUSE OF THIS FAILURE, WE'RE GOING TO VOTE THEM OUT.

EITHER THEY STAND UP OR THEY STEP DOWN.

THAT'S THE NEXT STEP.

IS THAT BECAUSE OF THEIR BETRAYAL OF LEADERSHIP AND THEM NOT TAKING THE CLIMATE CRISIS SERIOUSLY, THAT'S MILLIONS OF PEOPLE THAT ARE DYING.

THAT'S TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE THAT ARE BEING DISPLACED FROM THEIR HOMES.

THAT'S REAL LIVES.

THAT'S NOT A MATHEMATICAL PROBLEM.

THAT'S WHY THE VOTES ARE GOING TO TALLY UP AGAINST THEM.

TALK ABOUT -- LITERALLY LESS THAN A MINUTE LEFT, BUT I WANT TO TOUCH BASE WITH YOU, ORGANIZATION YOU ARE INVOLVED WITH, 1 MILLION OF US WHAT'S THE PURPOSE OF THAT ORGANIZATION?

1 MILLION OF US, I FOUNDED IT, I WAS AN INTERN IN CONGRESS FOR CONGRESSMAN JOHN LEWIS WHO IS A VOTING RIGHTS LEGEND HIMSELF.

I SAID, WHY DON'T WE MOBILIZE THE YOUNG PEOPLE ON THE STREET, EXACTLY 7.5 MILLION YOUTH THAT ORGANIZED.

WHY DON'T WE TURN THEM INTO AT LEAST 1 MILLION YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE UNITED STATES THAT GET OUT TO THE POLLS?

AND THAT'S WHAT WE DID.

FROM 2019 TO 2020, WE ORGANIZED ACROSS SOCIAL MEDIA, EVEN THROUGH A PANDEMIC, WE MADE OUR VOICES HEARD AND BECAUSE OF THAT, YOUNG PEOPLE MADE UP 1 IN EVERY 5 VOTES.

1 IN EVERY 5 VOTES.

THAT'S AN EXTRAORDINARY ACCOMPLISHMENT, SOMETHING HOPEFULLY IT WILL MOVE FORWARD CONTINUOUSLY.

JEROME FOSTER II, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SPENDING TIME WITH US AND THANK YOU FOR ALL THE WORK YOU'RE DOING.

LOOK FORWARD TO TALKING WITH YOU AGAIN DOWN THE ROAD.

YOU BE WELL.

THANK YOU.

©2021 WNET. All Rights Reserved. 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019

WNET is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Tax ID: 26-2810489