Political Issues

Teen Climate Activist Ivy Jaguzny Won’t Let ‘The West Coast Is Burning’ Become the New Normal

Kara Jillian Brown

Photo: Getty Images / Lindsey Wasson / Stringer / Ivy Jaguzny / W+G Creative

The fires currently burning across the West Coast are the worst that 18-year-old Ivy Jaguzny can remember. The Washington native has spent the past few days indoors, away from the smoke casting an eerie haze across the sky. It demonstrates that we are surviving the immediate consequences of climate change, she says.

Jaguzny is the press lead at Zero Hour, a youth-led organization that shares the stories of youth and their experiences related to climate and environmental justice. The group, one of Well+Good’s 2020 Changemakers, shares stories of those who are feeling the direct impact of climate change to raise awareness. Jaguzny is so excited to have started college and to be voting for the first time this year. But the past few weeks have introduced climate-related hardships that make her work even more necessary.

Jaguzny and I spoke by phone this week to discuss what it’s like in Washington right now, and why climate change is such an urgent issue for humanity.

Well+Good: For those who don’t know, can you explain a bit about the work you do at Zero Hour?

Jagunzy: A lot of what we do is try to share the stories of frontline youth and people who are being impacted by climate change right now. And for us, something that gives people a sense of urgency is feeling like it could impact them, their immediate family, their community. I think being vocal about how climate change is impacting people right now, right this second, helps people understand the urgency of the crisis.

All of your work is dedicated to preventing climate emergencies and now you’re living within one. How are you feeling?

It’s really weird for me because I’ve seen the changes in the last five years, and this is not normal for Seattle. The smoke doesn’t usually get all the way up here. It’s just apocalyptic in a way, because I can tell how abnormal it is. I will be going to Harvey Mudd College in California, hopefully, next semester, but I’m a little bit nervous to move because it’s so incredibly bad down there.

Honestly, I’m worried, and mostly for workers in Washington. I have friends who are working at grocery stores in this horrible air quality. There are so many farmers in eastern Washington who are consistently out, breathing the smoke. And so, I’m worried for them. I’m worried for my friends. And I’m furious that people don’t see this as a direct impact of climate change. I know what it is. I know that it’s a direct impact of climate change, but unfortunately, not everyone understands how urgent the crisis is. And not everyone understands how climate change is happening now and impacting people now.

I can’t imagine how disheartening it is to do this work and see some changes being made but not nearly enough. What keeps you motivated?

Lots of teamwork. Being around other young people who all think similarly and feel the reality of the climate crisis. Just being able to talk to them over Zoom and Slack helps. We’re always chatting on Slack, people will share things about their lives and we’ll all comment.

I also think it’s important for people to know that we can still avoid the worst impacts of climate change. Climate change is happening, we’re already seeing it. But we still have a chance to avoid the absolute worst impacts of climate change. And that’s something that keeps me motivated, especially as someone who will soon be in the workforce. I hope to be a researcher, I’m going to a college that is very heavily focused on STEM. And so I really hope to bring scientific and technological solutions to the table because we have this tremendous capacity as humans to solve problems.

How did you get involved in this work?

I started out focused on civic engagement for youth in Washington. I was on the Washington Legislative Youth Advisory Council, and that’s when I started thinking of climate change as something that uniquely impacts youth because we are going to really face the effects of the forms of climate change. I actually met Jamie Margolin, the founder Zero Hour, on that council. A few months after I met her she went to form Zero Hour, and she started planning the Youth Climate March. And I found that and I really was inspired to join and to take action.

What’s the most impactful thing you’ve learned about climate through your work?

That climate change isn’t something that affects everyone equally. Because some people have the ability to not feel the impact and turn a blind eye. But from working with people who have had their homes destroyed by climate change, who feel the impact every single day, it’s not a crisis that people can afford to ignore because it’s a matter of health, it’s a matter of life and death.

Specifically, people living in island nations where rising sea levels have a significant impact on the whole country, where half of the nation will be underwater in two years. I’m talking about Black and brown communities in the United States who are really feeling the impacts of fossil fuel construction projects. Coastal communities, that are really feeling the impact of storms and rising sea levels. In my home state of Washington, most of the farmworkers in eastern Washington are Latinx immigrants. And so, the fact that they are out in the smoke is another manifestation of climate injustice.

For many, it’s so easy to connect all of the disasters happening, from wildfires to hurricanes, to climate change. What do you have to say to those who turn a blind eye to what’s happening and deny that it’s the cause of climate change?

I would say that this isn’t normal. We’ve seen a significant increase in fires, and the number of fires that are burning, because of climate change and because of how dry everything’s been. That shouldn’t be normal. And I would like people to see this as something that requires action—because it does. As someone who has worked with the Washington legislature and has worked with various lobbyist groups for clean energy in Washington, we have worked for years and years and years for a clean fuel standard, and we still don’t have a Washington that’s fully committed to clean energy. We still have several fossil fuel construction projects going on. I would like Washington to wake up and see the urgency and know that we need action now.

Once the air gets cleaner and you’re able to safely spend time outdoors, what are some activities that you’ll do?

One of the things I love most about being in the Pacific Northwest is being outdoors all of the time. And that’s something that I really need. Especially, because I just started college online. Going outside is usually a way that I relieve stress and take care of myself.

I just love taking walks in parks. Before the smoke hit, I had a goal for myself to get outside more. I wanted to go to every single Seattle park, which is ambitious, I know. There are almost 500 parks in Seattle. I’m really fortunate because Seattle is such a green city, and there are so many beautiful green spaces.

What message do you have for other young people who are passionate about climate change and want to help but aren’t sure where to start?

Definitely find a group of young people or others who are passionate about the same things that you’re passionate about. Find your tribe. Because it’s a fight that requires a strong community. You can’t do it all by yourself, and no one expects you to. There are youths all over the country that are feeling frustrated and afraid, and wanting to take action, but not so sure of the best way. There are so many amazing youth-led organizations, and there are a lot of ways to get involved.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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