Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Natural History on the Big Screen: Youth Unstoppable

Webinar – Natural History on the Big Screen: Youth Unstoppable
March 24, 2022

Brian Coyle:
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the 30th annual Environmental Film Festival in the nation's capital and tonight's event around the film Youth Unstoppable. My name is Brian Coyle. I'm a program director and researcher with Smithsonian's National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, and I'm also the co-director of the Smithsonian Associates Earth Optimism Youth Action Leadership program and a contributor to programs spanning conservation, sustainability, environmental health, and youth leadership training. So this program tonight is of particular interest to me and of the work to many of my Smithsonian colleagues.

Tonight's conversation and the film screening of Youth Unstoppable is offered in collaboration between the National Museum of Natural History and the Environmental Film Festival in the nation's capital, which have been proud partners for the past 30 years. If you haven't had a chance yet to see the film, there's still time to watch it before the festival ends on March 27th, and I strongly encourage you to do so. It's a great film. So let's go ahead and just dive into the conversation.

I'd first like to introduce you to our panelists. We're joined by the filmmaker, Slater Jewell-Kemker, who's been making film since she was six years old. She's an award-winning filmmaker and climate activist. She's been featured in Forbes twice, selected by the Hollywood Reporter as one of the 15 filmmakers under 30 to watch. She's an accomplished speaker and frequently invited to speak on film and also on climate panels to represent the voice of youth, and an interesting fact, she lives in a self-built tiny house on wheels on a farm in Southern Ontario, Canada.

Also with us tonight is Kyle Gracey, who was featured in the film. Kyle is a research analyst at Oil Change International. He's the development director at Data For Progress, executive director of the United States Society for Ecological Economics, and Kyle co-founded the Youth Coalition at the UN Climate Change Negotiations, and where his effort were featured in the film that we're talking about tonight. His work has included positions in the US government and the military, including for then Vice President Joe Biden. He's worked with scientific societies, universities, think tanks, advocacy groups, private sector sustainability consulting, and his writings and interviews can be found in book chapters, scientific papers, magazines, newspapers, TV, you name it.

He holds degrees in ecological economics and biochemistry from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, and he earned a ... where he earned a Truman Scholarship, and he has a master of science and geophysical sciences and public policy from the University of Chicago. Kyle also serves on five nonprofit boards of directors. So I'd like to thank you both for joining us tonight. For the audience, please submit your questions as you have them, and indicate to whom you would like us to direct those, whether to Kyle or to Slater. Put them in the Eventive chat box so that we can get through as many as possible. We're first going to start with a moderated conversation, and then we'll have time ask the audience questions. So let's go ahead and get started. Slater, the first question for you. For those who, in our audience, who might not have had a chance to see the film yet, could you give us a brief overview?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Certainly. Thank you so much for making this conversation happen. I'm really excited to be here. The film itself, Youth Unstoppable, was made over 13 years and showcases and documents the rise of the global youth climate movement, and it was made with the intention ... At the time, young people weren't listened to or given the kind of microphone that they are these days, and I really wanted to, as a fellow young person, get out there and try to create a platform for people of my generation and young people to see a story of climate change beyond doom and gloom, but one that really showcases and celebrates this feeling of optimism and the sense that we can create a better world.

Brian Coyle:
Well, thank you very much for that, and that aligns very much with the approach that we take at the Smithsonian, too. Right? I mean, there's a lot of doom and gloom. We can't avoid it, but if we're going to take action or be successful, we got to focus on the things that are positive. We got to work together with positive energy towards those common goals. So one thing that we see in the film, and even in the film's description, you were 15 when you started this film. So clearly, you were impacted by what was going on around you. Can you share with us, though, if there was a pivotal moment or some incident that inspired you to make the film and what compelled you to focus your teenage years and your young adult years documenting the youth climate movement?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
When I started making the film, I was actually a delegate representing Canada at that year's G8 Environmental Summit as a youth delegate, back when it was the G8. I was working with other young people from around the world, particularly young people who became my now lifelong friends from the global [inaudible 00:05:05] and countries that were experiencing devastating impacts of the climate crisis already. I watched as we essentially became a glorified photo op for the environmental ministers, and I saw how all of this hard work from these over a hundred young people who were incredibly intelligent and passionate and creative and talking about real depths of this issue that I think even now aren't necessarily talked about all the time, things like human compassion and how selfishness, in a way, has led to a lot of our poor decisions as a human species and getting to this place, and seeing that it essentially just became like the happy smiling youth of tomorrow.

I was really angry that they were not being taken seriously or being acknowledged as actual stakeholders within this conversation, and so being a filmmaker from a young age, being someone who loves film and ... I didn't realize ... I didn't know how to be an activist, necessarily. I didn't know or think that I could potentially go and chain myself to some kind of uranium reactor or something, but I could go and film the kids doing that. So it really just came from this desire to try to create a platform for these young people, for these other kids of my generation to have a say in their own life, and to take something as overwhelming as the climate crisis and make it relatable and make it something that you will see the difficult parts of it and what makes this so overwhelming, but at the same time, really look into the human heart and the emotional kind of side of things.

Brian Coyle:
Great. Thank you. Well, certainly glad you didn't change yourself to a uranium reactor, and [crosstalk 00:07:12].

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Yeah. Me, too.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. You're absolutely right. I mean, the young people are the engine of change, and they always have been. It's because they're so adaptable, and creative, and innovative, and entrepreneurial. I mean, that's, what's going to ... That's what we need, is that energy. That's got to be the foundation for what we need to achieve. And so, Kyle, throwing it over to you. Can you tell us how you got involved in climate action?

Kyle Gracey:
Yeah. I, as I talk about a little bit in the film, I grew up in rural Western Pennsylvania, so coal country, and so had the experience of that. That was something that my family worked in from the time since before I was around. Yet, at the same time as I was going through elementary and middle and high school, they started building wind turbines in my area, and so I saw, visually, in my own area, this transition that was happening. Didn't know a darn thing about the climate crisis or any of that, but I saw that these changes were happening and saw that, "Oh. People can get jobs doing this instead of the coal industry that my family had been a part of."

So that was kind of the genesis of my interest, and then, when I was in college, I started getting involved in the actual policy and advocacy side of things, and then, shortly after graduating, got involved with these young people from all over the world who were ... had similar feelings and had their own sort of unique experiences in some way of either being impacted by their climate crisis negatively or, like I was, actually seeing some of the positive benefits. So that's really where it all started.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. That's great. I think both of are really like a roadmap and an inspiration for a lot of young people to see, how it goes from that first inspiration to, then, what are the next steps that you can take and the things that you can accomplish to make that kind of change? So, at this point, are you involved in any other projects? Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Kyle, do you want to go, or should I?

Kyle Gracey:
If you want to start, Slater.

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Okay. I am still in filmmaking, primarily working on writing narrative scripts and trying to find something that I can throw myself into, hopefully not for another 13 years like this documentary. But making this film and going to UN climate change conferences and being within this head space for so long led me to want to try and find a way that I could start living differently and start adapting my life to one with a smaller footprint, and maybe not using as much non-renewable energy, and growing my own food. And so I ended up building a tiny house that I live in on a farm, and I live there with some other friends of mine who are also of filmmakers and artists. We're not necessarily farmers, but we feel like, with the climate crisis, with looking at environmental issues and looking at how we are as human beings, that we need to start normalizing this kind of, these kinds of conversations and this kind of behavior.

So I guess you could say that for the past couple years, and definitely during the pandemic and not really going anywhere, I've been delving into figuring out how to live sustainably and figuring out, how do you initiate conversations between people that wouldn't necessarily speak to each other? I live in a primarily conservative area, and it's really a goal of mine to create a safe space for not only the farming community, but also the Indigenous community to feel like they can come together and speak about this in a way that isn't politicized, that we can share our stories with each other. So I guess I've been, yeah, out here, gallivanting, talking about sustainability and permaculture and trying to figure out what that means.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. That's great. I mean, you got to communicate verbally and then also communicate through example, the pathway forward, and so it sounds like that's what you're doing. Kyle, can you tell us a little bit about the things that you're involved with now?

Kyle Gracey:
Yeah. Absolutely. So now, a lot of my day work, my day job with Data For Progress and with Oil Change International, those are research and advocacy organizations. They're not youth-focused in the way that my earlier work was, although they have a lot of great young people who are part of those organizations doing that good work. But I'm also very fortunate to support, through some of the board of directors service that you mentioned, some really great, mostly youth-run organizations. So I'm now the chair of the board of an organization called Earth Hacks, which is run by young people and is designed to run sustainability focused hackathons, not in the way that we think about traditional hackathons of computer programming, but hackathons meaning coming up with innovative way a to solve sustainability challenges using any number of tools, not just computer code, although that could be one.

So that's a great organization. I think the folks, who are all young people, who are running it are doing a wonderful job there. Then, another organization that I am the chair of the board of is Engineers for a Sustainable World, which has chapters at 50 universities in the United States and Canada. That's all about building the next generation sustainability workforce, because there's all of this renewable energy that's being developed. We need young people who are technically-minded, who are engineers and scientists, to fill the jobs of those new companies and organizations that are out creating sustainability solutions and technologies, but there's a real skill ... There's a real gap now between what the workforce needs and what ... and the young people in college right now who could be lending their skills and abilities there. So we're helping to build that next generation sustainability workforce. So that's just some of the things that I'm really excited and proud to be involved in now to continue the same legacy of what we did in Youth Unstoppable.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. That's great to hear. I mean, at Smithsonian, too, a big focus, a core focus of the institution is STEM education, especially for younger people and students, and so hearing ... I hope many of our audience members are hearing what you're saying and all the different opportunities to get involved and have a positive impact. I mean, you can do these great things that are important and impactful and have that really enriching life where you're creating that positive change in STEM fields.

So, as a scientist and as a member of a scientific institution, our research at the Smithsonian collections, they reflect our understanding of the natural and the cultural world and its constant evolution, and so I'm wondering, Slater, whether and how your perspective has changed over the past decade, whether in your own personal outlook or your approach in communicating about climate change and driving action. How has that evolved?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
It's evolved in several different ways. When I first started getting involved and was one of a specific slice of my generation who all were simultaneously terrified and inspired by An Inconvenient Truth, since then, I think my outlook has shifted in that I started out being really angry and carrying a lot of that anger around. It's what kind of began mind making Youth Unstoppable, was this energy stemming from this feeling of injustice and that there was this ... there still is, but that there was this inequality, and that was not really properly being dealt with or solutions were being found.

I think, now, when I think about the climate crisis, and when I think about environmental degradation, I've gotten to this place where it's not necessarily just anger. It's this feeling that we can scream at each other all we want, and I don't think that's working anymore. I think we need to be in a different mindset and different place where we are having conversations about how this is also an existential crisis of what it means to be human, of what it means, what success and what happiness are within the society that we live in now and the society that we need to transition into if we're going to adapt and survive the climate crisis.

I think sometimes, it's easy to turn it off and to just talk about how it's, well, it's affecting people over there, or it's affecting a different community. It's maybe not necessarily in my own life right now. But it's one of those things that really impacts so many different things, whether it's climate justice, racial justice, sustainability. We're being forced to ask ourselves what kind of people we want to be and what kind of world we want to live in, and not in a absurd kind of hippie way, but in a real way of normalizing sustainability and normalizing living without the things that maybe we've become accustomed to that are built on convenience and fossil fuels, but are ultimately not the be all and ... of everything. Just because something has always been the way that it always has been doesn't mean that it has to continue being that way.

So I think I've gone from being a really angry young person who felt like she wasn't being listened to, that other young people weren't being listened to, to trying to figure out how we can have conversations that move us forward and that inspire us to dream of a different way of living. Because I think so many people just don't even know what to imagine or know what they're working towards or why they would want to work towards that. And so I feel like, as a storyteller, that one of the most important things that I can do is bring that kind of aspect to the climate crisis and what's happening within that space of figuring out how to tell stories that move people. Because I think that's part of what makes us human, is that we learn from a very [inaudible 00:18:04] age through the stories [inaudible 00:18:09] each other of, how do we exist? I don't know. We've fallen in love with nature [inaudible 00:18:17]. We have a glimmer of hope.

Brian Coyle:
I think we might be having some connectivity problems with our connection to Slater right now, so just hang tight. I'll throw it, I think, to Kyle, and ask you the same question. I know you answered this a little bit before, but has your role as a climate advocate, do you feel like that's changed from the time of filming to now, or the way that you see yourself or your perspective and approach?

Kyle Gracey:
No. In many ways, it hasn't. What hasn't changed is my belief in the importance of advocacy and of people challenging individuals and organizations who hold power who aren't doing the things that they need to do to prevent the kind of injustice that Slater talked about that the climate crisis brings. So that's the same, and my belief that the young people are a really important part of the folks who should be challenging that power and claiming some of that power. That's the same. I think the thing that has changed is just the urgency, that even though we are making ... we are having some successes, we are moving in the right direction, absolutely. The climate crisis itself is all also moving faster than we are, and so from the time that Slater and I started this to now, the severity and the urgency of acting has only increased.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. Absolutely. when you hear people try to talk about 2100 or 2080, 2050 even, right, I mean, we're looking at some severe consequences in the very near future, and people really need to be thinking about that and acting in a way that is appropriate on that timescale. Slater, you're back. So wanted to ask you-

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
I'm back. Sorry about that.

Brian Coyle:
Thanks for coming back. In the film, there's moments where you're frustrated, understandably, but what were the moments of success that kept you going? Were there particular moments when you felt like you were really making a change, really having a positive impact?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
I think one of the things that always jumps to mind is I was filming in Nepal with my friend Alina, and I had a little bit of footage that I had cut together from my time with Alina, going to different agricultural villages and whatnot, and was able to show these kids in the school the footage and to be talking about storytelling and the power of that as a way to be not only an activist, but as someone who is engaged in their community. What was so empowering about that was seeing these young girls who had never seen someone like themselves be in a position of power, and I think that, again and again, is this really empowering feeling of seeing that kind of light bulb go off with young people, of realizing that, "Oh. Wait a second. I can be involved in this? I can be talking about what my life is going to look like and what I want it to look like?" and this realization that it's not something that's out of reach, that, whether it's the climate crisis or local politics or climate justice, that they've ...

There's this sense of recognition and realizing that it is possible to step into that place of power themselves, and that's something that I think I wasn't necessarily expecting, showing the film or making the film. But it's been one of the most empowering things for me, is just realizing that when people come together, they have different conversations, and they have ... You can see that it's shifted for them in a meaningful way, and that's been incredibly empowering.

Brian Coyle:
That's great. We have similar experiences here with natural history museums and science centers, play a really important role in educating the public and contributing to climate conversations. Especially in this age of misinformation, these institutions are often trusted places in their communities for reliable information but ... and convening places for dialogue. The way that we work with young people, too, we see them as partners in problem solving for global problems. They're not just trainees. We are all on the same team here, but mentorship is key. And so I wonder, how has mentorship played a role in your work, and how have museums and research institutes made an impact on you?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
I mean, enormously. I wouldn't have been able to become a filmmaker, or to have made this film, or just still be involved in this if it wasn't for the role of mentors in my life. I was lucky to be mentored at a young age by the My Hero Project and just given a camera into my hand at a young age. As I've grown up, and as I've progressed with this film, I've been able to mentor other young people myself, and I think, yeah, we need this intergenerational collaboration in every part of our lives, I think, in order to figure out how we're going to move forward and to do that in a very real way and not one that is just kind of hearsay. Mentorship is, I think, one of the most important things in education and learning that I think is becoming much more of a thing again, this sense of constantly learning, of finding people that not only inspire you, but that you can work with. I think that's really critical.

Brian Coyle:
Fantastic. Yeah. Absolutely. Having those kind of relationships, those educational relationships, but also partnerships are essential. So what advice do you have for youth or even for parents that are dealing with, like you said, climate anxiety and grief? How do you stay hopeful and effective in making the change that the planet and humanity needs? This is to either, to both of you?

Kyle Gracey:
Well, one thing I would say not to do is to try to do this alone. I think that the ... it's really important for folks to find a community and find other people who care as much about these things or as worried as they are about these things, or even care more about them, to push you a bit. It's so much easier, and more empowering, and just more fun to do this work when you're part of a community, you're part of other folks who are passionate about this, too. So I think the biggest thing, especially if you are suffering this anxiety over the future, is don't worry alone.

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Yeah. That's so crucial, is finding community and finding this kind of found family of other people who are going through this. I think I certainly felt, at the beginning, when I was getting involved, that I needed to be this kind of superhuman and that I didn't really have time to stop or to grieve or to be vulnerable. And so I would regularly just push myself over the limits of what was healthy. I think now, people are starting to talk more and more about climate anxiety and grief and allowing themselves to be human and to have this moment where we are able to be vulnerable in that way.

I think we're realizing that there isn't just one dark night of the soul, that there are many, and that that's okay, because we're emotional creatures. We're not robots, and this is forcing us to question so many things about what it means to be alive. And so it makes sense that there would be these difficult moments, because it is difficult. It's really just, it makes me feel so good to see that young people who are getting involved in this work are not afraid to talk about that.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. Those are great points, and working as a group and working as a community, I mean, that's a big part of what life is about. Right? I mean, relationships and finding passionate people that you have a common bond with and are working towards a common purpose, I mean, it's a beautiful thing. And so that is a really positive aspect of working on this together with people, right, and knowing they're all over the place, and wherever you go, you can find them. So we're going to take some audience questions at this time, and I got one here for you, Slater, that someone asked. You worked on this film for over a decade. Was there any point at which you almost abandoned the project, and why? Do you see yourself ever take on such a long-term film project again?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Yeah. There were a lot of times where I wanted to abandon the project. One of them was actually in Rio in 2012, when we were at the 20th end of the original Rio Earth Summit that was taking place again in Brazil, and it was just this strange feeling of, "Wait a second. It's been 20 years since this key moment, and really, have we moved forward that much? Why are all these people here and these governments and corporations spending all of this money, and what's actually coming out of this?"

And so, I mean, there have been so many moments where it just feels like bashing your head against a wall and wondering if this is going to be taking place. I remember there's a clip in the film where this negotiator from the Philippines is talking about how ... What's it going to take? Are we going to need a COP30 or a COP40 before we actually start taking this seriously and changing, on a monumental scale, the way that we live?

It can be really difficult to look around you and see that friends all over the world are actively dealing with the climate crisis, and their lives are being affected, and the things that they thought they were going to do with their lives, they won't be able to do anymore because they have to take care of their families, or they have to move, or they have to rethink everything, and then just seeing how our politicians are seemingly living on a different planet. Yes. We've gone through the pandemic, and we've ... we're going ... It feels like the world is getting increasingly chaotic, and that some people are wanting to hide from that, and others are willing to look at this in a different way. I, even though I've wanted to stop many times, I usually come back to it because of people like Kyle and because of people in my community who remind me that this is actually worth it and that this is not just something you can hide from, that this is all of our lives, that this is everything. I don't think I will make another project on this scale.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. It's a huge commitment, but thank you for having produced this, because it's really an important piece of work. Kyle, you've been involved in ... Here's a question. You've been involved in many COPs in the past years. How do you feel about participation in and the outcome of this most recent one, COP26, and what do you expect of the future meetings?

Kyle Gracey:
Yeah. I was at a COP26 in Glasgow in 2021, and I think it's similar to my answer earlier, which was, it was good in the sense that there were some good commitments from governments. There was definitely progress and hope for the future, and at the same time, it was totally inadequate. The level of commitments that we saw, while they definitely moved us in the right direction, not enough to cut greenhouse gas pollution at the level that would give us the best chance of avoiding the worst impacts of the climate crisis and especially the really unequal, unjust impacts to some people around the world more than others. So I think there's still a lot of work to do.

Governments need to step up further, and organizations and people who are blocking that progress need to step aside. So I think that they're ... So yes. There are going be more COPs, because we need them and what we need to see there is a much higher level of ambition, and we need to see much higher levels of ambition across all levels of government in the lead-up to those international climate negotiations and after them.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. I totally agree, and a number of the biggest polluters and biggest nations didn't even really participate in the COP26. So what's it going to take to bring them back to the table in a way that's effective is conversations and having young people involved and engaged in politics and leadership in a way that's a lot more constructive, is going to be really important. So hopefully, we will see a lot more young people stepping up to the plate and filling those roles. Here's a question from Margaret to Slater. She says she's curious, what was the original idea of the film 13 years ago? So because the film's grown and evolved, right, over that time, based on your own experiences, and when did you decide that this is it, I'm done, like wrap it up?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Well, the film was going to originally ... I was going to go to the home countries of some of the other kids that were at the youth summit in Japan, Abrar in Bangladesh and friends in Indonesia and Australia. I would go to these different countries, and that it would be ... I'd film over a year, and then it'd be done within in a couple years. It grew beyond that, because all the kids that I thought were part of this summit and wanting to keep moving forward were kind of crushed and weren't part of the movement anymore. I was frustrated by that, and I wanted to go find other young people who were still a part of this movement. That's when I met Kyle. That's when I met other people in the film and realized that it was bigger than just one year, that this is an ongoing thing.

To be honest, the film could go on forever, because there isn't this neat, tidy ending of suddenly everything's okay, and we've won. I don't think we will fight if ... or I don't think we're going to win if we keep talking about climate change in those terms. It's getting to a point of realizing that, okay, maybe completely eradicating climate change is not an option anymore, but there is still so much worth saving and making sure that people are able to live and succeed in this just transition from a fossil fuel society to one that is renewable and sustainable and values people over profit.

So the film was supposed to end several times, but then Trump got into office. Then, 2018 happened, and Greta became this force to be reckoned with. Then, there was a larger movement of young people, and so there've actually been five, I think, different endings for the film, and then going back into it and realizing that it wasn't actually quite done yet. But I've put my foot down, and there will be no more edits going back into the film. But I do feel like this film is really valuable, and the fact that it is 13 years is really unique. That's what makes it an interesting tool and look back at where we've been.

Brian Coyle:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I think that's one of the big things that resonates, right, with so many people, is that they go through this, they've ridden that same roller coaster with you, and then ... But at the end, what's so important is the message that you drive home, a call to action, but also determination. Right? I mean, that's ... You just got to be determined to keep going forward with our action. Kyle, there's a question, another question from Margaret. She's asking, are there any topics or stories that you feel that we still don't see that are told enough in the media about the climate crisis? Anything that deserves more attention?

Kyle Gracey:
Yeah. I think we're still not telling, fully, the story of the sort of insidious impact that the fossil fuel industry has on blocking progress. At a high level, we all know that, but all of the intricate ways that they get their claws into this and stop good things from happening and good people from making progress on this, I don't think that story is fully told. There's a bias in the media of wanting to tell sort of both sides of the story and not making anyone out to be too good or too bad, but really, I mean, they are a major, major impediment to progress. We're not telling, in a detailed way, all of the ways and stories in which they are doing that.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. I agree. That kind of false equivalency that some media try to do sometimes isn't really in the best interest of society. And so Slater, some of the friends that you met at the first COP that you attended ended up getting married and becoming parents as you show in the film. How did their perspective on climate evolve with those changes, those big life changes and new roles as caretakers, so thinking about, even more so, what's it going to be like for the future generation, their own children?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Well, I will let Kyle speak for himself. I do know that with Abrar, even though he's not necessarily an activist in the movement, he's working with organizations and companies and folks in Bangladesh who are wanting to be more sustainable and to be getting energy for their businesses from green sources. Because he has a daughter, he's doing this because he wants her to be able to see the things that he grew up with, that he fell in love with, whether it was different forests or beaches that might not be there anymore, and he wants to make sure that she can understand why he loves his country and wants her to be able to see it, too.

For me, I'm not having kids, I don't think, anytime soon. I am conflicted about that in this time, but a lot of my friends are having kids. I look at them, and I want them to be okay. I want them to be able to fall in love with nature and with wild spaces and to be able to experience joy and not be in a state of conflict for most of their life. That's why I keep doing this.

Brian Coyle:
Kyle, do you want to tell us a little bit about your perspective, how that may have changed?

Kyle Gracey:
Yeah. I mean, I've had a similar experience, where I've had ... where people are on both sides of this, that in my ... the young people that I've been in the movement with, some of them feel that terror and sort of that concern for the future, and that obviously can impact lots of their decisions, including potential parenthood, because they do feel like they're sort of trying to avert the apocalypse, and then other folks who feel a real sense of hope and feel like, because we do have the ability to make progress, and because humanity has struggled through really tough stuff well before we ever learned about the climate crisis, there's also a lot of hope for the future, and that you can choose to look at it as averting the apocalypse. But you can also choose to look at this as us incrementally, slowly but surely, building utopia.

And so that's more of the perspective that I have. I'm in the process of going through the adoption process, so that's how I see it. But I absolutely understand both sets of feelings that different people have and how it can affect the choices that they're making about their future and other people's futures. I think both of those feelings, we kind of have to hold both of them at the same time, because they're both true.

Brian Coyle:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. I really like that remark, too, about building a utopia. I mean, it's also an opportunity for environmental enlightenment. You know? We've had this before in the past where things change dramatically, human rights, the worth of humanity, and so this is another opportunity for us to make that dramatic transformation. Here's a question from Monica. Are there better ways that we can connect with and uplift worldwide activists? How do we balance articulating global priorities versus the priorities of individual nations? So, Kyle, do you want to start with that one?

Kyle Gracey:
Sure. I think that it starts with how we see other people and how our motivations are affected by how we see other people. So we need to see everybody else as another person, and it's in the moments when we don't see others as people that our actions shift to being hostile, our motivations become hostile. We start to justify our negative actions as protecting ourselves or trying to avoid looking bad, but really, when we genuinely make an effort at all times to see each other as people who have their own set of needs, and wants, and desires, and hopes, and fears, all the things we just talked about with regard to parents, that's the place where you can start to think of this differently.

So I think we need to approach that the same way of when we tell stories about others, about seeing all of the folks around the world who are doing this good work in, frankly, much harder conditions and situations than the privilege that Slater and I have had in our work and our circumstances. We absolutely should be telling those stories, because there's great people all over the world who are doing this work and who deserve to have their voices and their struggles supported and told. I think Youth Unstoppable did a great job of giving you a very, very tiny slice of that, their existence, but there's so many more stories out there to be told and so many people who, with just a little bit of resources, could do some really incredible things.

Brian Coyle:
Another question here for Slater from Wendy. Do you think that the movie Don't Look Up, or with the movie Don't Look Up, that the entertainment industry will start green-lighting narrative TV and films that address the climate crisis, or at least do ... or do that more?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Yes. I mean, they're already starting to, from what I've seen within the industry up here, is that there is this sense of ... that this isn't going away, that this isn't just a gimmick of a story, that we need to start normalizing conversations about this crisis and how we're moving forward. So yeah. I do think we're seeing more of those stories. I think we're seeing them in mainstream media a lot more than they used to be, and I hope that a lot more narratives are green-lit surrounding this. I think, yeah, we need more of this.

We need it to be normal. People don't need to necessarily be an environmentalist or be a climate activist to be talking about this or figuring out how their lives are going to be changed, and I think that's something that we need to get to that point of where it's just how things are, is living in a way that is respectful of other people and of the earth and of finding justice for everyone, regardless of background and where they come from. So hopefully, one day, it's not going to just be a ... either something that is way too optimistic or utopian in a sci-fi film or looked at as the end of times, that it's something that we achieve and we get to.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. That's the kind of new normal that I would like to see. We talk about the new normal after the pandemic. Right? But people actually taking a very different perspective on how they live, and their values, and putting ecological values at the center of society, and really appreciating that and making a stronger connection with nature in all ways, people, as well. So yeah. So we're going to wrap up pretty soon, and we wanted just get some closing remarks from you guys and some insights about, what do you tell young people? What advice do you have? I mean, parents, people of all ages, but in particular, thinking about young people, they are the climate generation. They're dealing with the anxiety, and they're dealing with grief. What would you say to them going forward? How do they stay active?

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
For me, what I would say, I guess it would be a mixture of two things, the first being that it can be really difficult to, but it's incredibly important to listen to the people around you. We're in an incredibly, an increasingly divided world, and we don't know what is true. We don't necessarily know who we can trust, and I think that makes it very compelling to retreat into our silos and into our bubbles of experience. But what we need now more than ever is to listen to the people around us and see who we are living with, what our physical communities look like, as well. We need to be open to understanding each other and empathizing with each other if we're going to move forward into this new way of living, so definitely, as hard as it can be, to listen to people, to hear their stories and to feel where they're coming from.

I think what's also important to remember is that you don't necessarily need to be a climate activist or to go to UN climate change conferences in order to be involved and to be a part of this movement. We need all kinds of people. We need storytellers, and artists, and scientists, and activists, and engineers. We need every kind of person you can think of to be a part of this solution so that we can all move forward together as opposed to just a few people adapting because they have the means to. So do what you can with what you have where you are. If you can eat more locally, that's awesome. If you can have a community garden, that's amazing. It's being aware of your local footprint as well as the realization that we're part of this global community. So finding that balance is, I think, really worthwhile.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. Great point, and it's increasingly easy to find those opportunities, too. Right? I mean, some people struggled, like, "Well, where do I start?" But now, you go online, and you search. I mean, you can find there's more and more organizations, local groups of different sizes and different types that are popping up, and so you can try them out. If it doesn't work for you there, just keep trying until you find the one that fits.

Slater Jewell-Kemker:
Makes sense.

Brian Coyle:
Kyle, what about you? Do you want to share some advice that you would give for young people now about how to stay hopeful and effective?

Kyle Gracey:
Yeah. Definitely. To build a little bit on what Slater was saying about needing all skills and people, I would encourage you to look at the people and the organizations right now who have the most power, who are doing the most to block progress on these issues, and use your unique skills and abilities to take power from those people and organizations and give it to yourselves and others who are committed to a better future, whether that is through science and technology, or advocacy, or running for office, whatever you are best at. Think about those power dynamics, and think about how you can build power for yourselves and share that with everyone. Again, do that as much as you can in communities and with others. Don't try to do all of this by yourself.

Brian Coyle:
Yeah. So these are great comments, great advice. I love that you guys keep reinforcing to do this together. It's a community effort, everything. It's a enormous problem, and we're only going to solve it together. It's got to be collective action, and I think one of the greatest things about the youth movement, right, that we've seen is that it is just the best example of a global community working toward a common purpose. I mean, where else do you see that kind of, that same kind of common action and common communication and messaging as powerfully as you do with all the global protests and all the action that's happening among youth organizations around the world?

So that's about all the time that we have tonight, and really want to thank you. So please, everybody, join us in thanking tonight's speakers, Slater and Kyle, and thank you to the DC Environmental Film Festival and the production team that's helping out behind the scenes. They did a great job. I'd also like to give special thanks out to those who made today's program possible. So that's our donors, our wonderful volunteers, and viewers like you, and all our partners who help us to reach and educate and empower millions of people around the world, young people and people of all ages, today and every day.

So thank you all, and you'll see a link to the survey in the chat. We hope that you'll take a moment to respond. We're very interested to hear your input and any feedback that you have, and again, thank you to our participants and to you, the audience. Have a wonderful night.

Archived Webinar

This Zoom webinar discussion of the film "Youth Unstoppable" aired March 24, 2022. Watch a recording in the player above.

Description

The National Museum of Natural History and the Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital collaborated to offer this program, which featured an online screening of the film "Youth Unstoppable" and the Q&A discussion in the video above. Participating in the discussion were the filmmaker, Slater Jewell-Kemker, and Kyle Gracey, co-founder of the Youth Coalition at the UN Climate Change Negotiations.

Moderator: Brian Coyle, program manager at Smithsonian Conservation Commons

This program was part of the 2022 Environmental Film Festival in the Nation’s Capital.

About the Film

A film 11 years in the making, "Youth Unstoppable" documents the struggles and events of the largely unseen and misunderstood Global Youth Climate Movement. At age 15, filmmaker Slater Jewell-Kemker began attending environmental summits, camera in hand, wide-eyed and ready to make a difference. From flood ravaged villages in Nepal to luxury hotels in Cancun, from the tailings ponds of the Alberta Tar Sands to the riots of Copenhagen, culminating with the intense and defining events at the 21st UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, "Youth Unstoppable" shows us a powerful vision for the future of our planet and the young people who will lead us there.

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Social Studies