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An Interview With Newt Powers, a High School Student Leading the Way Toward a Cleaner Earth

Newt Powers interview, Youth Alliance For the Planet, Green Schools Campaign

An Interview With Newt Powers, a High School Student Leading the Way Toward a Cleaner Earth  

This post was originally published in November 2020. 

Many teens are passionate about an issue, and they feel the need to do whatever they can to make positive changes. I had the opportunity to interview an accomplished senior in high school named Newt Powers. Newt is involved in environmental efforts at a local and international level. I asked them about their work, accomplishments, and more:

What led you to found Youth Alliance for the Planet? Can you explain what it is?

Although our bio says, “Youth Alliance for the Planet is a youth-led international organization that raises awareness about environmental issues and fights to solve them,” at this point, I’d like to think of us as an environmental news source. I am already very involved in my own local community, but I hoped that by founding Youth Alliance for the Planet, I could make a greater change in the environmental movement both across the US and abroad.

Can you explain what the Green Schools Campaign is, and what led you to get involved in it?

The Green Schools Campaign (@greenschoolscampaign on Insta) is a campaign started by the youth committee of the Climate Reality Los Angeles chapter dedicated to converting every school to 100% renewable energy. It sounds like an ambitious goal, and it is, but I believe with our team, we have the capacity to do it. Especially considering we now already have 18 countries and 35 schools on board. I became involved with the campaign after doing the first Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training with Al Gore where I learned about concepts from making a green economy to teaching climate change in the classroom. If you want to convert your school to 100% renewable energy, please contact myself (@youthalliancefortheplanet on Insta) or the campaign’s insta, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can. 

What do you do in your roles as the CEO of Youth Alliance for the Planet and a Researcher for the Green Schools Campaign?

As a CEO of Youth Alliance for the Planet, I have a couple of different jobs. Primarily, I help make the posts. What I do every so often is to read various different articles with different perspectives on current environmental issues I find interesting, and I summarize them to spread awareness for a broader audience in a way that is simple to understand and encapsulates the entire issue. I also hold meetings with my other 5 team members (who mainly design the graphics for the posts) about possible future events and to discuss the direction we want to take the organization in the future.

Honestly, I actually diverged from my researcher position for the Green Schools Campaign to help them form their diversity statement (and also their mission statement). I brought this idea to the table because I believe it’s important for organizations to acknowledge the oppressive societal systems that permeate racial injustice, economic inequality, and discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity to name a few, and to also offer a space for everyone’s voices to be heard. 

You are clearly a leader at a young age. What leadership opportunities do you recommend to teens and young people? 

Thank you for the compliment! I would definitely recommend starting an environmental club at your school if you don’t already have one. Starting your own club or organization is a great experience as you are able to shape the future of the organization and build support with a great set of friends and members that will back you up. As to specific programs, I know that the Alliance for Climate Education has an Action Fellowship in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida; you should sign up for if you live there. There is a year-long activist lab by the Endangered Species Coalition I believe could help youth (16 and up) bolster their leadership skills. I would also highly recommend the Climate Reality Leadership Corps Training! 

Do you believe that you’re a natural leader, or have you developed leadership abilities because of your desire to fight this crisis?

I don’t think anyone is a natural leader at all. I’ve developed my leadership skills over time (basically since middle school, and I’m a senior now) and gotten better at organizing people to do certain tasks, speaking in front of large groups, taking initiative, being a role model for other members, and so much more. 

Can you describe your school involvement with your school’s Sustainability Council and your motivation to get involved in school?

I initially was motivated to get involved in my school community when I lived in Germany for a year in 8th grade. There, I was one of the organizers of a youth climate summit that brought speakers and students from the surrounding countries for a multi-day event dedicated to taking climate action in student’s school communities. I then moved back to California and joined my school’s Sustainability Council (which I now co-lead) where I have done various volunteering activities like beach cleanups and collecting trash on paddleboards, given informational presentations on the endangered Palos Verdes Blue Butterfly and the California wildfires, and raised funds for the marine mammal care center. 

What do you allocate most of your time towards in terms of climate action? 

Currently, I am allocating a lot of time towards all of my online efforts because of the fact that in-person strikes and events are generally not happening in my area because of the coronavirus. 

What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment?

This is honestly a very hard question because I’m not sure one certain thing sticks out in my life. I guess, on the theme of the environment, I was awarded the 20 under 20 distinction by the South Bay Magazine along with other innovative, change-making teens in my area because of my work as a volunteer team leader and intern with the Palos Verdes Peninsula Land Conservancy and my school’s Sustainability Council. I am super grateful for both the magazine and the land conservancy for nominating me.

How do you think climate justice will be achieved?

Climate justice will be achieved only if we hold big businesses accountable for their fossil fuel emissions and transition to more renewable energy. We need to acknowledge as well that many marginalized groups such as low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change, and we need to put in place funding for these communities, so they are not worn away every time the next hurricane comes around. Overall, there are many inequities in our society today, but I am hopeful that with the work of activists like myself, government officials, businesspeople, and the economic pressure of citizens, we will be able to end injustice once and for all and combat climate change before it is too late. 

How do you balance school work with your positions in climate organizations?

Honestly, sometimes I don’t. I definitely put high expectations upon myself in terms of academics, but there have definitely been times where I put my heart and soul into my extracurriculars at the expense of my grades. In terms of my own study strategies, I would highly recommend y’all buy a physical planner because it helps me immensely. I also try to put a time limit on each of my activities and give myself breaks by playing guitar or talking with my family or scrolling through Instagram. 

What are your future aspirations? Do you want to go into environmental science or have a leadership occupation?

I would say that although I see myself taking many paths in the future, my current plan is to go to college and get an environmental engineering degree. I appreciate how there is an intersection between both the humanity of societal issues and the STEM courses that I have so loved throughout high school. And I get to help solve climate change!

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