MEET THE CLIMATE JUSTICE ACTIVIST SUING THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT

Encore: September 22, 2022

At age 12, Vic Barrett experienced the wrath of Superstorm Sandy, and noticed how the storm disproportionately affected people of color. Years later, Barrett is one of 21 plaintiffs in Juliana v. United States, the groundbreaking lawsuit moving through the courts which alleges that the federal government violated Vic’s rights by knowing for decades that fossil fuels create pollution that leads to climate change.

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 JENNA FLANAGAN.

WILDFIRES, HURRICANES, COASTAL FLOODS.

THERE IS A WHOLE GENERATION OF AMERICANS WHO HAVE GROWN UP WITH THE FIRSTHAND VIEW OF THE DEVASTATING FIX OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND EXTREME WEATHER.

NEW THAT GENERATION IS OF VOTING AGE, AND MORE AND MORE YOUNG PEOPLE SAY THAT CLIMATE CHANGE IS THE MOST CRITICAL ISSUE OF OUR TIME.

OUR NEXT GUEST IS PART A THAT GENERATION.

VIC GARRETT WAS 12 YEARS OLD WHEN HIS HOME WAS HIT BY HURRICANE SANDY, AN EVENT HE REMEMBERS VIVIDLY, AND SINCE THEN, HE'S DEDICATED MOST OF HIS YOUNG LIFE TO CLIMATE ACTIVISM.

HE'S EVEN SPOKEN BEFORE THE U.N.

AND HE'S ONE OF 21 YOUNG PLAINTIFFS CURRENTLY SUING THE U.S. GOVERNMENT FOR FAILING TO PROTECT THEM FROM THE IMPACT OF CLIMATE CHANGE, ALLEGING IT IS A VIOLATION OF THEIR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS.

AND VIC BARRETT JOINS US NOW AS PART OF OUR ONGOING PROMISE INITIATIVE REPORTING ON THE HUMAN STOIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND ITS SOLUTIONS.

VIC, WELCOME TO 'METROFOCUS.'

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR HAVING ME.

I REALLY WANT TO GET INTO THE NOTION OF CLIMATE ACTIVISM AND BEING A YOUTH-LED MOVEMENT THIS.

SEEMS LIKE SOMETHING THAT EVERYBODY SHOULD BE INVESTED IN, BUT FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE, WHY WOULD YOU SAY YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE A PARTICULARLY UNIQUE INTEREST?

YEAH, I THINK YOUNG PEOPLE HAVE AN INHERENT CARE ABOUT THE CLIMATE CRISIS.

NO GENERATION BEFORE US HAS HAD SUCH AN EXISTENTIAL THREAT, SUCH -- TO THEIR LIVELIHOODS, FUTURES OF WHAT COULD COME NEXT.

MOST SCIENTISTS AGREE THAT 350 PARTS PER MILLION IN THE ATMOSPHERE IS WHAT EXISTS FOR A SAFE AND STABLE CLIMATE, AND WHEN I WAS BORN IN 1999 WE WERE ALREADY AT 370 MILLION, AND TODAY WE'RE AT 420 PARTS PER MILLION, SO YOUNG PEOPLE ARE BEING BORN EVERY DAY INTO A WORLD THAT'S NOT TECHNICALLY CAPABLE OF SUSTAINING A HEALTHY CLIMATE FOR THEM.

THAT'S INTERESTING, THE WAY YOU TALK ABOUT IT, YOU KNOW WHAT THE CARBON MONOXIDE LEVELS ARE PARTS PER MILLION.

THAT'S NOT A WAY YOUNG PEOPLE USED TO TALK.

TELL ME HOW YOU SEE THE MOVEMENT GROWING ESPECIALLY WITH SO MANY YOUNG PEOPLE NOW OF VOTING AGE.

I THINK THE CLIMATE MOVEMENT IS REALLY SPECIAL BECAUSE IT'S SUCH AN INTERSECTIONAL ISSUE.

IT HAS TO DO WITH GENDER JUSTICE, RACIAL JUSTICE, CLIMATE RIGHTS, CLASSISM AND IF PEOPLE CAN AFFORD TO PICK UP BABY FORMULA OR THE FOOD THAT THEY NEED.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS A MASSIVE ISSUE THAT DEAL -- THAT IS A PART OF ALL THE ISSUES THAT PEOPLE ARE TALKING ABOUT, JUST LIKE RACIAL JUSTICE AND GENDER JUSTICE AND ALL THE THINGS THAT I MENTIONED.

CLIMATE CHANGE IS A SYMPTOM OF A SYSTEM THAT ISN'T NECESSARILY WORKING.

I'M WONDERING IF YOU CAN EXPAND ON THAT JUST A LITTLE BIT.

BECAUSE A LOT OF PEOPLE MIGHT HEAR, OKAY, BUT THE CLIMATE AFFECTS EVERYBODY, SO HOW IS IT UNIQUELY DETRIMENTAL WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT ISSUES YOU JUST DID -- RACIAL JUSTICE, GENDER JUSTICE, ET CETERA.

EXPLAIN HOW CLIMATE UNIQUELY IMPACTS VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES.

YEAH, AND I LOVE YOUR USE OF THE WORD VULNERABLE, BECAUSE THAT'S EXACTLY WHERE I WAS GOING TO GO WITH THAT.

CLIMATE CHANGE MAKES US ALL VULNERABLE, AND THERE ARE COMMUNITIES THAT ARE ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE ALREADY DUE TO WHETHER IT'S OVERPOLICING, LACK OF FOOD IN THEIR NEIGHBORHOODS.

CLIMATE CHANGE ISN'T JUST ABOUT THIS BIG PICTURE ISSUE, LIKE I TALKED ABOUT CARBON.

IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT THAT.

IT'S ALSO ABOUT, DOES YOUR NEIGHBOR HAVE AIR-CONDITIONING IN A CITY THAT'S GETTING HOTTER EVERY YEAR?

DOES YOUR NEIGHBOR HAVE ACCESS TO TRANSPORTATION IN A CITY THAT IS GETTING MORE SNOW EVERY YEAR?

SO IT HAS A LOT TO DO ALREADY WITH WHAT PEOPLE CAN ACCESS, AND CLIMATE CHANGE MAY BE MAKING IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR THEM TO ACCESS THAT.

OR CLIMATE CHANGE CREATING MORE NEEDS FOR THEM THAN THEY ALREADY ARE STRUGGLING WITH IN THE FIRST PLACE.

A LOT OF REASON I GOT INVOLVED WITH CLIMATE JUSTICE IN PARTICULAR WAS LEARN ABOUT IN NEW YORK CITY HOW LOW INCOME HOUSING AND HOUSING THAT IS PREDOMINANTLY LIVED IN BY PEOPLE OF COLOR IS OFTEN BUILT IN AREAS THAT ARE FLOOD ZONES AND THE CITY KNOWS ARE FLOOD ZONES AND SUSCEPTIBLE TO FLOODING.

NOT JUST IN THE CITY BUT ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, THERE'S ALREADY VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES BEING PUT ON THE FRONT LINE OF AN ISSUE THAT WE KNOW IS JUST GOING TO GET WORSE.

SO IT'S KIND OF LOOKING AT WHAT SYSTEMS AND POLICIES AND ALL OF THESE THINGS CONSIDER SACRIFICE ZONES, AND IT TENDS TO BE ALREADY VULNERABLE COMMUNITIES THAT LIVE IN THOSE.

YOU SORT OF TOUCHED ON THAT WHEN YOU TALK ABOUT FLOOD ZONES AND WHICH COMMUNITIES LIVE THERE.

I DO WANT TO POINT OUT YOU DEFINITELY IDENTIFY AS BLACK/LATIN X, QUEER AND OBVIOUSLY A YOUNG PERSON, BUT I WANT US TO TAKE YOU BACK TO YOUR EXPERIENCE, I GUESS WHAT WOULD BE YOUR MOST TRAUMATIC EXPERIENCE WITH CLIMATE CHANGE, AND THAT WAS THROUGH SUPERSTORM SANDY WHEN THAT HIT NEW YORK CITY.

CAN YOU TAKE US BACK TO YOUR EXPERIENCE WHEN YOU WERE 12?

I JUST REMEMBER A LOT OF FEAR, A LOT OF UNCERTAINTY, NOT KNOWING WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN NEXT.

GOING HOME, WATCHING THE NEWS AND SEEING PEOPLE WHO WERE BEING IMPACTED MORE THAN I WAS IN THE MOMENT.

I DIDN'T GET INVOLVE IN THE CLIMATE WORK UNTIL I WAS 14 YEARS OLD, SO I GOT THIS OPPORTUNITY TO REFLECT ON THAT EXPERIENCE AND ALSO MEET YOUNG PEOPLE WHO JUST LIKE ME HAD TO LEAVE THEIR HOLE HOMES BEHIND, DIDN'T HAVE A HOME TO LIVE IN ANYMORE.

I THINK A LOT OF HURRICANE SANDY WAS REALLY EYE OPENING TO ME IN TERMS OF REFLECTING ON IT AND THEN LOOKING AT THE RELATIONSHIPS THAT I WAS BUILDING AND UNDERSTANDING THAT PEOPLE WHO LOOKED JUST LIKE ME WERE IMPACTED GREATLY, UNIMAGINABLY.

THE SAME PEOPLE THAT I WAS WALKING TO THE SUBWAY WITH AFTER SCHOOL OR EATING FREE PIZZA WITH AT AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAMS, YOU KNOW, THEIR WHOLE LIVES WERE UPROOTED, SO --.

DID YOU FEEL AS THOUGH THIS WAS A UBIQUITOUS FEELING ACROSS OTHER -- I HATE TO COPE SAYING YOUNG PEOPLE, BUT ACROSS OTHER NEIGHBORHOODS?

LET'S FOCUS ON NEW YORK CITY.

BECAUSE AS YOU POINTED OUT, THIS DIDN'T IMPACT ALL OF NEW YORK IN THE SAME WAY.

THERE WERE PEOPLE WHO HAD THE LUXURY OF PICKING UP AND MOVING SOME PLACE ELSEWHERE AS OTHER PEOPLE HAD TO RIDE OUT THE STORM.

SO, AS YOU GOT INVOLVED IN THIS PARTICULARLY YOUTH-BASED CLIMATE ACTION, DID YOU FEEL AS THOUGH EVERYONE WAS ON THE SAME PAGE?

HONESTLY, WHEN I FIRST GOT INVOLVED, THE FIRST CAMPAIGN THAT I WORKED ON WHEN I WAS 14 WAS FOCUSED ON CLIMATE EDUCATION AND TRYING TO MANDATE CLIMATE EDUCATION IN NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

BECAUSE ME AND MY PEERS IN THIS PARTICULAR AFTERSCHOOL PROGRAM LEARNING ABOUT HUMAN RIGHTS, LEARNING HOW TO RUN A CAMPAIGN, HOW TO MEET PEOPLE, WE ALL KIND OF COLLECTIVELY WERE AWARE OF THE FACT THAT NOTHING IS GOING TO CHANGE UNLESS YOUNG PEOPLE KNOW WHAT THE ISSUE IS.

I FEEL LIKE WHEN I FIRST STARTED THE WORK, I DEFINITELY FELT THE GAP BETWEEN YOUNG PEOPLE KNOWING HOW CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACTS THEM OTHER THAN THE SAME IMAGES THAT WE'RE FED CONSTANTLY OF TREES GETTING CUT DOWN AND POLAR BEARS NOT BEING ABLE TO MOVE ACROSS THE ICE.

WE HAVE GENERAL IMAGES OF CLIMATE CHANGE THAT YOUNG PEOPLE, AT THAT TIME GOT TO SEE A LOT, AND I TRIED TO MAKE IT A MISSION TO SHOW HOW IT IMPACTS HUMAN AT THE END OF THE DAY, AND I THINK THAT NARRATIVE HAS GOTTEN MORE UNDERSTOOD AND COMMON.

BUT WHEN I FIRST STARTED IT DIDN'T FEEL AS UNDERSTOOD BY YOUNG PEOPLE.

LET'S PUT YOUNG PEOPLE ASIDE AND TALK ABOUT US OLDER GENERATIONS.

WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THE LEVEL OF UNDERSTANDING AND MORE IMPORTANTLY, UNDERSTANDING THE URGENCY?

BECAUSE WHILE THERE SEEMS TO BE A LOT OF PASSION ON THE PART OF, YOU KNOW, YOUR PEERS, YOUR CONTEMPORARIES, A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO ARE IN CHARGE OF GOVERNMENTS ACTUALLY MAKING THE DECISIONS MIGHT NOT SEEM TO HAVE THAT SAME LEVEL OF URGENCY, CRITICAL URGENCY WE SEE A LOT OF YOUTH EXPRESS.

YEAH.

I THINK THAT A LOT OF DECISION-MAKERS MAYBE DON'T SEE THE DON'T UNDERSTAND THE IMPLICATIONS THE WAY YOUNG PEOPLE DO.

GEN-Z, AND PEOPLE MY AGE -- I'M 23 -- A LITTLE YOUNGER AND OLDER HAVE AN INHERENT EMPATHY FOR OTHER PEOPLE'S LIVED EXPERIENCES AND SITUATIONS THAT MAYBE OLDER GENERATIONS DON'T POSSESS IN THE SAME WAY BECAUSE THEY WEREN'T BORN INTO THE SAME WORLD WE HAVE BEEN BORN INTO.

I THINK THERE'S DEFINITELY A LACK OF ACKNOWLEDGEMENT ABOUT THE JUSTICE PART OF CLIMATE CHANGE AND THE HUMAN IMPACTS THAT CLIMATE CHANGE HAS ON HUMAN BEINGS, BECAUSE I THINK THAT WE HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE IN A TOO DISTANT, ABSTRACT WAY FOR A REALLY LONG TIME.

POLITICIANS -- THIS IS SOMETHING THAT COMES UP IN THE LAWSUIT THAT I'M A PART OF.

POLITICIANS, PRESIDENTS HAVE KNOWN GOING BACK TO THE 1950s AND 1960s -- HAVE BEEN BRIEFED ON CLIMATE SCIENCE AND THE FACT THAT FOSSIL FUEL INFRASTRUCTURE WAS GOING THE LEAD TO MORE CLIMATE CHANGE AND DECIDED TO PRIORITIZE PROFIT OVER PROSPERITY AND WHAT'S COMING NEXT.

SO I THINK A LOT OF POLITICIANS ARE WORKING AT A DIFFERENT BASELINE THAN YOUNG PEOPLE ARE WHEN WE TALK ABOUT THE ISSUE OF CLIMATE CHANGE.

THE AVERAGE LAWMAKER IN THE UNITED STATES TENDED TO BE ABOVE 50 YEARS OLD.

AND THAT'S A DIFFERENT LIVED EXPERIENCE THAN SOMEONE WHO'S 23.

SOMEBODY WHO WAS BORN IN THE '50s OR '60s IS GOING TO HAVE AN INHERENTLY DIFFERENT OUTLOOK THAN SOMEONE WHO WAS BORN IN 1999 OR LIKE I SAID BFR, SOMEONE WHO WAS BORN WHEN THE EARTH WAS CAPABLE OF SUSTAINING THE WAY OF LIVING.

IT'S GOING TO HAVE A HARDER TIME UNDERSTANDING A GENERATION THAT WAS BORN IN A TIME WHEN THE WORLD WAS CAPABLE OF SUSTAINING THEIR LIVELIHOOD.

WE ONLY HAVE A MINUTE LEFT.

I WE ARE IN A MIDTERM ELECTION YEAR.

PRIMARIES ARE COMING UP, ET CETERA, SO HOW DO YOU, AS A CLIMATE ACTIVIST AND YOUNG PERSON, HOW DO YOU MOTIVATE PEOPLE TO INCREASE THE PRESSURE ON THOSE LAWMAKERS TO ENSURE THEY ARE TAKING THIS SERIOUSLY AND MAKING SOME OF THE CORRECT DECISIONS TO MAKE THE PLANET MORE SUSTAINABLE AND LESS CHAOTIC WEATHERWISE?

YEAH, ABSOLUTELY.

I THINK IT COMES DOWN TO LETTING YOUR LOCAL POLITICIANS -- REMINDING THEM THAT THEY'RE ACCOUNTABLE TO YOU, REMINDING THEM THAT YOU'RE THEIR CONSTITUENT, WHETHER YOU VOTE FOR THEM OR NOT.

REMINDING THEM THAT THEIR JOB IS TO BE ACCOUNTABLE TO YOU AS A VOTER AND ALSO JUST AS A CITIZEN.

SO I THINK THAT'S A HUGE PART OF IT.

AND ALSO, SOMETIMES WORKING IN LEGISLATIVE POLITICS OR TRYING TO ENGAGE IN THE LEGISLATIVE SYSTEM CAN BE WEARY AND DISHEARTENING, SO ALSO REMEMBERING THAT THERE ARE SYSTEMS OUTSIDE OF THAT, JUST MUTUAL AID, JUST CHECKING ON YOUR NEIGHBOR, LOOKING AT YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD AND SEEING WHERE PEOPLE NEED THINGS IS REALLY EMPOWERING IN A SYSTEM THAT TENDS TO BE PRETTY DISEMPOWERING.

SO I WOULD SAY THAT I VOTE EVERY YEAR.

I VOTE IN MIDTERM ELECTIONS, LOCAL ELECTIONS, PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS, ALL OF THEM, AND THAT'S REALLY IMPORTANT.

A LOT OF PEOPLE FOUGHT HARD TO MAKE SURE I COULD DO THAT, SO IF I GOT TO FILL OUT PAPER WORK AND SHOW UP SOMEWHERE, I'M GOING TO.

AFTER DO YOU, THAT MAYBE SHOW UP TO YOUR LOCAL FOOD PANTRY, MAYBE CHECK IN ON THE ELDER PERSON THAT LIVES IN YOUR BUILDING.

YOU KNOW, JUST PAY ATTENTION TO THE PEOPLE THAT YOU TEND TO NOT PAY ATTENTION TO, I THINK, IS ONE OF THE BEST WAYS TO NAVIGATE THE WORLD THAT WE'RE IN RIGHT NOW, AS WELL AS DOING WHAT YOU CAN IN A SYSTEM THAT DOESN'T LET YOU DO MUCH.

ALL RIGHT, WELL, VIC, WE'RE GOING TO HAVE TO LEAVE IT THERE, BUT THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING SCHOOL BUS FOR SOME VERY USEFUL WORDS OF WISDOM.

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINS AND YOUR CONTINUED WORK IN CLIMATE ACTIVISM.

ABSOLUTELY.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

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