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Surprising Stories of Climate Activists

From kids, to grandparents, to climate clowns, Stepping Up podcast features the folks taking on global warming

There’s a new podcast on the audio scene, and it will spark both your interest and your imagination. Stepping Up tells the stories of climate advocates who are stepping up their game in unexpected ways. Grannies and kids, evangelicals and clowns, they are figuring out new ways to act – and act out – about the biggest crisis of our times.

photo of young people examining objects in the sand at an ocean beachphoto Sarah CraigHeirs of the Ocean members Elliot, Kirin, Dakota,  and Charlie are stepping up to the challenge of climate change.

The first episode, called The Loudest Smallest Voices, was released last week. It features the tales of several young activists, and will make you laugh and cry.

The episode starts with12-year-old Kiran Garewal’s visit to the lab of climate scientist Dr. Vania Coelho at the Dominican University of California. As he walks in, he sees a room cluttered with science equipment, and another humming with the sound of aquarium tanks. Kiran is there because he’s heard from his friends that coral reefs are dying and he wants to ask Dr. Coelho, an expert of coral bleaching, why.

Kiran’s interest in coral was piqued when, several months earlier, his friends came back from a trip to the islands of Palau in the South Pacific. They told him that they went kayaking and saw huge swaths of white dead coral. It was scary to discover that the oceans were in such a state of disaster.

Kiran and his friends are part of Heirs to Our Oceans – a group of 17 kids who are on a mission to save the oceans. These kids live in the San Francisco Bay Area and are home-schooled using a curriculum that is hands-on and project-based. The club arose out of that curriculum. By studying the oceans, they’re learning to research, write, speak and think critically.

Back in the lab, Kiran learns that coral bleaching comes from heat stress – in this case, warming waters – and it can kill almost an entire reef if it’s intense enough. He asks the professor about the impacts on the food web when this happens. “As the corals start to die, you start to have less and less fish in those areas because they don’t have enough habitat anymore to survive,” says Dr. Coelho. Kiran suggests they can move to another habitat. “Oh no, no,” she responds. “Those relationships that evolve over 1,000s of years, you can’t replace them like that.” She snaps her fingers. “If we have no coral we’re not going to have a lot of other things too. Think about all the human beings that depend on those ecosystems. It’s not pretty.”

The Heirs to Our Oceans kids are stunned that grown ups could have messed things up so badly. So, they’ve decided to do more than learn about how climate change is changing the watery underworld – they are stepping up to take action. Along with Kiran, the Climate Change Challenger, there’s Dakota, aka Dr. Sea Otter. Anna has assumed the name Professor Kelp. Elliot goes by Acidification Obliterator. And then there’s Charley, who has come up with a nifty palindrome: Coral La Roc.

These kids are teaching other school children. They are marching in demonstrations. The are writing to state and national legislators. And they have attracted the attention of preeminent climate scientists who are advising them and getting them into symposia where they speak to adult audiences. As Anna says, “When we stand up and speak in front of a group of adults, they’ve no clue about what we’re going to say. They have no clue if we’re going to talk about climate change, or if we’re going to talk about, like, how unicorns are pink. They’re wondering what will these children say? Why are they here?” By the time they’re done, the Heirs always seem to have won the admiration and respect of the room.

These kids come from privileged backgrounds. But with the help of their parents, they are designing a curriculum that can be used anywhere – in public schools, after school clubs, or ocean youth organizations. Their primary mission and biggest challenge is getting more kids involved. Their plan is to turn their Heirs to Our Ocean club into a worldwide movement. So far they have chapters in places ranging from Kansas to the Pacific Islands.

These young activists’ understanding and articulation of complex concepts is remarkable. At the same time, they are still kids: playful, silly, irreverent. And you can step into their world in the first episode of the Stepping Up podcast. 

Stepping Up tells the stories of all kinds of people who are responding in surprising ways to the climate crisis. It comes on the heels of the three hottest years in recorded history. As the thermometer climbs, severe drought, super floods, and extreme weather events are spreading across the globe. And the American president has walked away from the Paris Agreement.

Most Americans understand that climate disruption is already happening and that we are in trouble if we don’t change course. But many of us don’t know what we can do to turn things around. Stepping Up brings you stories of how to do so and where to start. Now more than ever it is time to act.

Listen to the first episode below, and subscribe to the podcast today at www.steppinguppodcast.org so you don’t miss the next story

Sarah Craig
Sarah Craig is a writer and radio journalist living in Oakland, California. She is the Associate Producer for the Stepping Up podcast. Her work has been published by Marketplace, KQED, Grist, and others.

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