Hey, I’m Jamie Margolin

Photo: Mitch Pittman

Fixing the world’s climate crisis should not fall on the shoulder of a child. Here, I’m not refering to Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, often chided for his child-like temper tantrums, but Jamie Margolin, a young, Latinx, lesbian climate activist from Seattle, Washington. In a few short years, Jamie has created a body of work and a reputation many adults never achieve in a lifetime. At only 15 years old, the daughter of a Colombian mother and a Jewish father, Jamie leapt into action to lead her generation to bring greater awareness among her cohort of high-school-aged teens and tweens, who may not have the capacity to vote but can still organize, influence, protest and make their voices heard.

Jamie, who is now 18 years old and a student at New York University Tisch Film School, founded and had been the co-executive director of Zero Hour, a global climate change non-profit that organizes in over 20 countries, while juggling the demands of gymnastics and high school. She along with 12 other young people sued her state government because of what she saw as a lack of climate leadership. Seattle, where she lives, is known as the Emerald City because of its lush evergreen forest. It has since lost some of that luster, becoming a bit cloudy as of late due to worsening seasonal wildfires and thick smog with air conditions so poor people are advised to stay indoors. Jamie has testified before the Foreign Affairs Committee in Congress along with fellow youth climate activists Greta Thunberg and Vic Barrett, delivering these harsh but affirming words in September of 2019:

“The fact that you are staring at a panel of young people testifying before you today pleading for a livable earth should not fill you with pride, it should fill you with shame…You’re here spending a few moments with me, but that is nothing compared to the hours that members of congress have spent with lobbyists from corporations that make billions of dollars off of the destruction of my generation’s future. I want the entirety of congress, in fact the whole US government, to remember the fear and despair that my generation lives with every day, and I want you to hold onto it.”

Through her advocacy she has led a march on Washington D.C. through a downpour in 2018 and held Youth Climate Summits with young people from across the country. She even wrote a book called Youth to Power, published this past June by Hachette Book Group.

For Jamie, the stakes couldn’t be greater, especially now that she eyes a future in film and hopes to create better LGBTQ representation in media, which she believes is threatened by a spiraling climate problem. Her home state of Washington is further proof, having a record 30 fires already this year, burning over 800,000 acres and destroying 400 structures. In the midst of the climate chaos she also lost her grandfather to Covid-19, which, while not a result of the climate problem, is precisely the unfortunate and preventable type of consequence that can happen when politicians choose not to believe the words of scientists in tackling our greatest societal challenges—the very source of Jamie’s ire the last five years.

We sat down with her to discuss her journey thus far and where she’s headed next.

You were obsessed with the Olympics as a kid. Why?​

I’ve always loved the idea of the best of the best, coming together from all around the world to unite and compete. It’s just always seemed kind of magical to me. I’ve always loved the opening ceremonies. I especially loved gymnastics, and I discovered rhythmic gymnastics. I started doing rhythmic gymnastics from when I was 11 till when I was 15 competitively. To get those people who are at the top of their field, like all the gymnasts, the synchronized swimmers; they seem like super humans. They were so phenomenal at what they did. And I knew the amount of training and work. I was so mesmerized and inspired by that whole concept of the Olympics.

What does it take to be good at rhythmic gymnastics?

It takes a lot of training. When I was at my prime, I was doing it four hours four times a week; consistent training, consistent work. It was just nonstop. It’s really about routine, repetition, discipline, flexibility, taking control of your mind, because the competition can be very stressful and stuff, so it’s a lot of mental and physical preparation.

Why did you no longer continue the sport?

I quit when I was 15 because I got a bunch of injuries, but also I kind of just fell out of love with it at one point and my mind and attention was needed in other places. I’m someone who is all or nothing. I don’t believe in half-assing anything. If I start to lose passion in something and I don’t put my everything into it, then I won’t be doing it anymore. I believe in going all in.

It would seem that your interest in climate change came on suddenly. What inspired you to do something about it and what made you think that you were up for the job?

Really, I’ve always cared about the climate crisis and it’s always been something hanging over my generation and my future. Now I’m at film school, I have all these dreams, nothing to do with climate change and nothing to do with the environment. I’m kind of forced to have to focus on this stuff, because I literally can’t be pursuing my dreams. I can’t live them out. We have fire tornadoes in California. My home city is right now covered in smog. There’s dangerous air quality. It’s just all of these issues, so I realize that I have to take action. 

I really got started after the 2016 election. That was really the catalyst, because I was getting involved in my local Democratic party to stop the election of Trump and to get more Democrats elected. As we know, that didn’t work out. So then after that I was like, the climate crisis is something that is interconnected with all other issues. If I don’t take action on it, it will be too late and then nothing else will matter. I can’t pursue my dreams, I can’t live out my goals to be happy. The world as we know it is literally coming to an end. That’s when I decided to step it up and take climate action.

How did Zero Hour come about and how were you able to create this incredible platform at only 15 years old?

I had been doing organizing work in my community for about a year, and I wasn’t seeing the changes that I needed to see by my leaders. I was under the misconception at the time that if you’re a Democrat that you will take action in this regard. And I realize that it’s not that black and white. Even the Democrats, even the supposed “good guys,” are still not taking enough action, are still in some cases in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry and all of these other things. At the same time, this was in the summer of 2017. There were all these climate disasters: Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Harvey, and Hurricane Irma. Just one thing after another after another. Plus, there were the wildfires and the smog coating my city of Seattle in a thick layer. There were all of these climate disasters. 

Then Trump announced he is pulling us out of the Paris Climate Accords. It was just all these things, so I decided I needed to take my actions to another level, so I started organizing. I posted on social media that I was going to start a youth climate march, and I asked, ‘who is with me?’ and then a couple people reached out and from there we started Zero Hour. As we organized over the course of a year, we built a movement and, in 2018, we had youth climate marches in 25 cities around the world.

What happens to the organization while you’re in college?

The organization is big enough that it doesn’t rely on one individual person. There are a lot of people who are carrying it on. So, it’s still going and we’re still taking action and we’re doing a lot around the election and endorsing down ballot candidates. There’s a lot still going on.

You’ve spoken publicly before adults and children on climate change. What’s the difference that you observe in your discussions among the kids that adults could learn from?

I feel like while some adults are hung up on how “practical” climate action is, young people see the destruction the climate crisis causes and aren’t so concerned with how “expensive” or “impractical” it is to take climate action. Adults should start thinking that way and think less about what is politically feasible and what is popular than what is necessary.

What should adults know about this generation of young people like yourself?

It shouldn’t be all on us to fix this problem. They need to also be taking action. They need to be doing what they can to take action on the climate crisis. I hate this whole sentiment of ‘the youth will save us all.’ I really don’t think it’s our responsibility and it’s not fair to put it on our shoulders.

You wrote a recent book, Youth To Power: Your Voice and How to Use It. How can young people not even old enough to vote use their voices and harness their power to create change?

I wrote this book because I get a lot of young people asking questions about how to take action, how to organize, and how to make a difference in their community. Not just on climate change but on any issue. And eventually, I learned how to do it all the hard way, so I decided to put it together and write a book that is a guide for any young person or persons of all ages. It’s called “Youth to Power,” but honestly, it’s really helpful for any adult. Youth can take action by using their voices to stand up for a cause they care about in whatever way works best for them and their community. The audiobook is available on Audible, youthtopowerbook.com and in all bookstores.

You’ve said that “climate delayers” are the new “climate deniers.” What can these climate delayers learn from what we are witnessing with the pandemic and the social unrest?

What I think they can learn is there’s really no such thing as, “Oh, let’s be reasonable,” “Let’s be realistic.” You can’t make up when you’re going to take action on the climate crisis. The numbers and the science are there, and I feel like a lot of climate delayers don’t realize that it’s not up to us. It’s on the earth’s timeline and right now we’re way behind and we’re already in a climate emergency. People had to be airlifted by helicopter! That’s not normal. That is a climate emergency. We have to treat it like one. And the climate emergency is also very much intertwined with racism and colonialism. All the same systems that cause the climate crisis in the first place are the same ones that are continuing to oppress people today.

You recently said that you’d rather live in the fictional planet called Etheria, home of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power rather than in the real world. How is Etheria different from the world in which we live?

Etheria is a planet with no homophobia, no transphobia and no racism. It’s just a world where all of that doesn’t exist. If you watch the show there’s a bunch of LGBTQ characters and the main characters are lesbians and everyone is out and proud and it’s not even a thing. And people are from all different races and there’s no racial hierarchy or white supremacy. It’s just a world without that. It’s a world without climate change and it’s green. The air is clear. At the end of the show, everything turns out OK and they end up saving the world from destructive forces and that’s beautiful and it’s magical.

You’re now attending film school and moved across the country to New York. It seems like a departure from what you’ve been doing the past few years. Is it?

There’s no such thing as quitting the climate change movement because once you learn about the climate crisis, there’s no going back. I’m in this movement for life. Coming to film school, my dream is to be a screenwriter and a director and a showrunner to tell the stories I wished I would have had. It’s difficult growing up with minimal LGBTQ representation and I’m a very out and proud lesbian. Media shifts the culture and culture shifts policy and people. So, I feel if there was more positive representation and good stories centering queer characters written by queer people, our world would be a much safer and better place for LGBTQ people. I want to be that person.

I really don’t see it as a departure, because I’ve been advocating for the LGBTQ community for a long time. This isn’t new, and ever since I was little, I was always a writer and I was always a creative person. I was always creating stories and worlds of fiction. I never wanted to fight the climate crisis as a job. My goal was always to be a creative person. It was always to tell stories. There are video tapes of me telling stories and making up stories when I was three, even when I was two. It’s in my bones. It’s who I am. And so now I’m pursuing a career where I can be a full person, not just Jamie the climate girl. 

You’ve accomplished more in three years than what many adults achieve in a lifetime. Did you even fathom your success? In retrospect, do you think that the skills you honed in rhythmic gymnastics prepared you for this moment?

I think they did because I learned discipline, time management, perseverance, work ethic, and pushing through nervous situations and doing the best that I can under pressure. All of these are skills I learned as a rhythmic gymnast. 

I never imagined all this. I really just took this one step at a time. I just knew that we had no more time to act on the climate crisis, so we have to do everything that we can. So, all of the stuff that’s happening now, I didn’t fathom it. I haven’t really had time to process, because I’ve just been going and working nonstop.

What can someone reading this take away from your experience?

We are in a climate emergency and everyone has to do their part whatever that can be. I’ve been doing my part, and your part doesn’t have to look like mine. Everyone can do what they can and that’s enough. And if everyone does what they can, speaking truth to power, working on making our communities take as much climate action as possible, and trying to create as much change as possible, then I think we’re going to be in a much better place.

Follow Jamie @

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