Nine-year-old Theo. Photos by Sara Bernard.

Kid Climate Activists Still Planting Trees, Inspiring Grownups

“Kids save the future!” says nine-year-old Theo Faloona.

Seattle’s new Plant for the Planet president-elect, 13-year-old Athena Fain, has begun to think about the way that she talks about climate change.

For three years, she’s been part of a group of kids who advocate for climate action, especially through planting trees, but through a ton of other efforts as well (i.e. urging the Gates Foundation to divest from fossil fuels, urging the City Council to put warning labels on gas pumps, continuing to support those members who’re still involved in a climate-change lawsuit against the state Department of Ecology, and standing with Standing Rock). But this summer, the rousing speech Fain made at the NW Solar Fest was a good learning opportunity “as far as my speech-making ability goes,” she says. “I made everybody feel kinda negative. I don’t want that. I don’t want people to feel negative.”

From now on, “I’m gonna try to give positive speeches! Because now is definitely not the time” for gloom and doom, she says. “I’m also gonna focus on telling people what they should do, as opposed to what they should not do.” For instance, “As a favor to me and my future, why don’t you try walking more, instead of driving?”

On Saturday, Fain, along with about a dozen or so Plant for the Planet kids, some as young as six, gathered to make announcements, recite poems, sing an original song that 16-year-old activist and musician Aji Piper wrote for the event, and put five baby redwood trees in the ground on the north side of Beacon Hill’s Jefferson Park. As part of the Moving the Giants to Puget Sound project, organized by former Boeing-employee-turned-tree-advocate Philip Stielstra, 300 coast redwood saplings will be planted at 26 different sites across the region in December and January. Saturday’s event was the kickoff. These particular redwoods, it turns out, store more carbon dioxide per acre than any other tree in the world, according to a seven-year study published this summer by researchers at the University of Washington and Humboldt State University. Stielstra predicts that if everything goes well for these trees, they’ll still be standing in Jefferson Park in 3,000 years.

Yes, they are just trees, and there are just five of them. But it’s heartening to do something tangible in the face of all the bad stuff, Plant for the Planet kids say, especially post-election — though on this point, too, Fain is compassionate: “I want to keep an open mind and an open heart … I don’t want to believe that Donald Trump is as bad as he acts.”

Nine-year-old Theo Faloona, official coordinator of Saturday’s event, says he only got involved with Plant for the Planet a month or two ago (“I think it’s a good group and I’m going to continue with it for a while”). As for his feelings on climate, he’s definitely concerned. “I’m worried, because I would be affected… my generation, and my children and my grandchildren would be affected the most. That’s one of the reasons Plant for the Planet got started,” he explains. “Kids save the future!” And as for his immediate future? “I hope to get more involved with politicians and stuff.”

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