A Conversation with Adrian Huq About Youth Environmental Activism
Through the "Voices of Local Leaders" interview series, the Science Yourself Initiative supports community members in the Greater New Haven area and across Connecticut that value science literacy and critical thinking, including researchers, formal and non-formal educators, students, parents, citizen scientists, journalists, and artists.
Early this year, Science Yourself interviewed Adrian Huq, a young environmental activist with strong roots in New Haven. As a middle school student in the area, Adrian already cared deeply about the environment and would go out of their way to improve recycling efforts and reduce food waste at school. In high school, Adrian had the opportunity to engage with their school community about environmental issues and started organizing youth-led climate strikes and other initiatives, which led them to co-found the ‘New Haven Climate Movement’ Youth Action Team and coordinate the youth internship at the ‘Climate Health Education Project’. Based on solid scientific evidence about the impact of human actions on global climate, Adrian’s activism creates awareness of these issues and pressures local communities and policymakers to advance plans for broad climate education across the city and potential solutions to mitigate human impacts. Adrian inspires other young students to take action and is definitely helping New Haven move in the environmentally right direction!
(This interview, including a video with Adrian Huq, was originally posted at https://www.scienceyourself.org/en/blog/2021/interview-with-adrian-huq)
“My name is Adrian Huq and I am the co-founder of the ‘New Haven Climate Movement’ Youth Action Team. I had an interesting path to organizing. Throughout middle school, I would collect other people’s fruits to take home, because I care a lot about food waste. I would take other people’s scrap paper and other thing to take home to recycle, since the recycling bins in our school are not functional. Then in high school, I also took that further. I did the same thing, but I would collect a lot of other recyclables. My locker was filled with plastic from other people! So, I’ve always had a mindset of conserving materials and encouraging other not to be wasteful. There was always that spark in me for taking care of the environment and feeling that responsibility to have others look out for the Earth as well. There is a non-profit organization in New Haven called the ‘New Haven/León Sister City Project,’ and they have multiple initiatives as part of their efforts to tackle climate change in the New Haven area. That’s one of their goals, and also working in León (Nicaragua) for social justice and against climate change. So, they have a bunch of different initiatives, and one of those is the Elm Energy Efficiency Project. Back in 2018, they wanted to run a pilot program in a New Haven high school, where one of the high-school students would educate their own school community about energy efficiency and sell energy-efficient products. So, I applied [to the program] and I was hired to become that person in my school community, which was the Metropolitan Business Academy, in New Haven. I spent the school year running campaigns surrounding energy efficiency and educating my school and my peers about it. The ‘New Haven Climate Movement’ is an organization that was also started by the ‘New Haven/León Sister City Project’. As part of my work with Elm Energy Efficiency Project, I was introduced to [the ‘New Haven Climate Movement’] in spring 2019. I was asked to organize a youth-led climate strike for them, since that’s when the 'Fridays for Future’ global movement was really taking off, and May 24th was one of the global strike days. After helping organize that first strike, we decided that it would be great to continue to involve youth going forward in the [New Haven] Climate Movement, since it had only been adults at that time. So, from there I had co-founded their youth action team, and we’ve grown a lot since 2019 and we’ve gathered a really great group of high-school’ and college’ student activists, who organize all the action strikes and events for the New Haven Climate Movement.”
Science Yourself: How have you been involved with climate education in New Haven?
Adrian: This summer , we created our climate justice schools proposal. Within this proposal, the main asks are 30 hours of inter-disciplinary climate education in New Haven’s middle schools and high schools. Other asks include project-based learning, meatless Mondays on the cafeteria, making school buildings more energy efficient, and greening the school transportation. So, we hope to see five pilot schools as New Haven public high schools and, then, I believe by 2023, we want all New Haven high schools to be climate justice schools. Something that we proposed, with our climate justice schools proposal, to help aid with all the new projects, events, activities, and curriculum that these schools will be expected to have, is through stipending two student leaders and one teacher coordinator per participating school. We want the teacher coordinator and the student interns to work with each other to collaborate in different events and activities. We do see it as important to provide teachers and students a little extra money for the extra work they are doing on top of the typical expectations as a student or as a teacher. We presented that to the New Haven Board of Education in July 2020. We have been working with the Board of Education for the last few months with different key people, such as the Assistant Superintendent and the District Science Supervisor, to try to enact this proposal. It hasn’t been passed yet, but we are working with a lot of different people within the district to see how this program would look if it was implemented and how it can be funded. We are on a good path and we hope to see this enacted very soon.
Science Yourself: What motivates you to keep going and trying to convince more people to join you?
Adrian: I think I am motivated to keep fighting because here in the US we tend to be very short-sighted when it comes to crisis. And most of the time we’re pretty inconsiderate of the suffering of communities outside of our country. I think it's really important to stand up for the countries that are being impacted by climate change right now, even though they didn’t create the problem. A lot of people are losing their livelihoods, especially people who are working in agriculture for a living. People are really being forcefully displaced and moving to cities, leaving their culture and their ancestral lands. Even the country that my family is from (Bangladesh), they are really being impacted by huge flood seasons and droughts and losing crops. I’m just motivated to do this because we need to give a voice to the countries that are being impacted first and worst. And first-world countries are not really doing anything about, even though they are the ones that are contributing most to this issue. And I’m motivated to fight for climate education because I’m passionate about young people, I’m passionate about education. And climate education is one of the things that put me where I am today, in my place as an environmental activist right through high school and out of high school. So, I think it’s so important to educate young people about the world that they are inheriting and the world around them right now!
Science Yourself: What are a few aspects or facts about climate change that people are usually unaware of?
Adrian: I think an aspect about climate change that other people aren’t typically aware of or don’t know much about is that climate change is not just about global warming. A lot of people still think that’s what climate change is, that’s the full problem: hotter summers, less colder winters. But the truth is that climate change is not only the warming of the planet, but also all the social, economic, and environmental consequences that come from the disasters that arise when we go above those planetary boundaries. We just have to remember that our planet is very strong and resilient system, but there are limits that we are constantly pushing against. I saw someone frame climate change as our planet having a fever. And just like when you are sick, other parts of your body are also affected due to that sickness. Just like how our planet has a fever of above 1 degree that impacts so many other aspects of our planet and throws off that delicate balance. Even though it really doesn’t sound like a lot. In our house, if we turn it up 1 degree, it might not be a major difference at all. But when we are looking at a full planet, that means the collapsing of sea ice, it means that sea levels are rising, it means more natural disasters.
Science Yourself: There is a lot of misinformation and science denial about climate change. What is a common misinformation that you've come across when interacting with the community, educators and policy makers?
Adrian: A common misconception that I’ve come across when it comes to climate change is that it is in the distant future and that there are more current and pressing challenges that we should be focusing on first. First of all, I would definitely want to acknowledge that there are so many current and pressing issues that are happening right now. But there’s also the truth that climate change is ALSO happening right now. And what we can do to draw down emissions drastically by 2030 is actually harm reduction for the inevitable feedback loops that we’re gonna see that are going to lead to climate disaster. The truth is also that at least somebody has to be thinking in the long-term instead of only dealing with the problems that we are facing right now. Some barriers that could come through educators is that they might not think that climate change is related to the subject that they are teaching. However, climate change really does cover a large variety of topics that are not just science, for example, social studies and history. For policy makers, there’s a lot of avoiding the issue of climate change for both monetary reasons (saying: ”We don’t have the money to implement these solutions”) or just because they feel that there are more pressing issues affecting their constituents. And also, the fact that climate change is such a long-term problem and such an adaptive challenge lets politicians get away with not addressing it because their terms are typically 2 or 4 years, so they can easily put things off and say: “That’s for a politician 20 years from now; I don’t need to be doing that.”
Science Yourself: What are the most important things that you have learned in advocacy that you wish to advise to someone thinking about becoming an environmental activist?
Adrian: Throughout my experience with organizing I’ve learned a lot of different lessons. One of them is just the importance of growing the movement through diverse approaches. There’s always a debate when it comes to environmentalism “Do we go the policy route or the public education route?” I think it’s important to do a mixture of both. Obviously, policy is where you can get more concrete things done. But to supplement that, you also need to try to educate the public. So, at the ‘New Haven Climate Movement’ we do both of those things. We do public actions and our actions to educate residents and have them join our movement. Another thing that I’ve learned is that youth in general are capable of taking on tasks just like adults can. And sometimes it’s needed for youth to take on responsibility for issues, like climate change, because some adults are just not taking action. I would say: “Don’t underestimate yourself if you are a teenager or younger because youth have a lot of power and we can use that to our advantage!” Especially when it comes to issues like climate change, we provide a really strong, emotional appeal about how this is our future. So, definitely, your voice matters as a young person. Also, I’ve learned to meet people where they are. If someone doesn’t know how to recycle, I’m not gonna use that against them, because obviously there are different barriers that come from this activity. For example, their neighborhood might not accept recyclables and they don’t really know what goes in which bin. So, definitely meeting people where they are, especially in the environmental movement, is important. It is okay if people are not aware about climate change, or still think it’s just about global warming, because we can help educate them. And that’s alright!