Preemptive strike

15-year-old Daniel Tanner helps lead the next generation of climate activists.

Interview and photos by Kasey Jackson

Daniel Tanner isn’t very imposing. But this past September, when he stood at a microphone in front of hundreds of climate activists on the lawn of the Indiana Statehouse during the Youth Climate Strike, he burst forth with passion and commitment to sharing his mission: Protect Mother Earth.

Similar student strikes are happening all over the world, sparked in a big way by Greta Thunberg, who gained worldwide attention for striking school on a Friday to bring attention to climate change. Her strike led to the creation of FridaysForFuture, a movement that began in 2018 and continues to this day on Fridays around the world.

Kiwanis magazine caught up with Daniel, a 15-year-old activist and sophomore at Carmel High School in Indiana, after the strike for a few questions about climate protests, why today’s youth are taking an active role and how we should all feel about the future.

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Kiwanis magazine: What worries you the most about the future of the planet?
What worries me most about the future is whether that future exists. The effect of the climate crisis affects our planet like train cars. With rising sea levels, fluctuating in extreme heat and cold and more powerful and destructive natural disasters, we see a chain effect that begins to affect our crop yield, air quality and overall quality of life. I fear we are adding car after car after car, and our planet is nearing derailment in one big, fiery train wreck. 

Why do you think climate change is such a divisive topic?
Short answer: I suppose it is more convenient to write it off as a hoax. Countless facts and statistics and proof can overwhelm and frighten people, although it may be warning them and educating them on preventing impending disaster. These things are affecting them in their backyards. Destroying their homes, their food and their futures. To an extent, people ignore climate change because of the communities it most affects. With the jarring effects of colonialism, we see indigenous communities and communities of color being hit hardest, and that is what is neglected most. 

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If you could talk to every single person on the planet and make them understand one thing, what would it be?
Disaster is inevitable if we do not change. Period. This is affecting us in more ways and in a closer vicinity than most believe, and it is destroying black and brown communities and communities of indigenous people at a disproportionate level. 

Why do you believe young people will make a change that adults haven’t been able to?
The youth are the ones that will be most greatly affected and burdened. Youth are often more open to learning new things and more open-minded. We are more willing to listen and more willing to open our eyes to what is happening. Going off of “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” oftentimes people are unwilling to get out of their old mindsets.

What do you want to do next?
I want to keep fighting! I want to keep planning and organizing and fundraising and keeping our fight on the minds of both energized youth and adults. I want to spread the knowledge and educate, and I want to lift up the voices to the podium of the people most directly and harshly affected. 

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Tell me three things anyone can do right now to help protect the planet from further harm.
Educate yourself and begin to educate others. You cannot make change if you don’t know what you are trying to change and how you are trying to change it! Additionally, look into sustainability: ways to include green and healthy changes in your life to promote a low-waste lifestyle. Buy second-hand, utilize public transit and be an eco-friendly consumer.

Advocate and fight for indigenous people. Don’t allow yourself to become complacent as their sacred lands are being ripped from them and the things they depend on as necessities are reaped and drained and destroyed. Once again, educate and speak out, but also recognize that these voices are truly the lifeblood of the climate crisis movement.

Call out injustice in your communities, families, schools and even in the highest levels of law and government. Like we have seen at the recent United Nations Youth Climate Summit, the painstaking, time-consuming, never-ending fight for climate justice is still treated as a sensationalized pageant biased toward celebrities and neglecting the people who are truly at the front lines of the issue. Keep fighting for a healthy and obtainable future.

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This story originally appeared in the April/May 2020 issue of Kiwanis magazine.

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