Gen Z for the Trees and our blog series “Conversations in Climate Activism” are creating a space for young people to come together, feel empowered, and explore what it means to be an activist. We’re exploring our roles and identities as young people living in the climate crisis, and how we can use our passions to create a positive impact on our communities near and far.

Jamie Ziah joined the Gen Z for the Trees team in September. Earlier this week, she reflected on her experience with fellow team member, Mia Cooper.

An early impulse for environmental activism

Mia: What did you study in school?

Jamie: My degree is in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. My concentration was human dimensions of the environment, and my minor was Earth Society and Environmental Sustainability. So, lots of words to basically say that I care about the environment!

Mia: What got you interested in environmental issues?

Jamie: Growing up, the older I got the more I realized that our environment was in trouble. My parents never really had a filter around me when discussing these issues. Once, when I was 9 years old, my mom, aunt, and grandma started arguing about whether or not climate change was real while we were out at a restaurant. It got super heated and my mom got frustrated and started yelling, “WE ARE ALL DOOMED.” Naturally, this terrified small me. I had heard about climate change on the news, but hearing my mom basically say we were all going to die freaked me out pretty bad. That is basically when I started thinking about climate change, and I really never stopped. So that’s always been my calling and my motivation to get into stuff like this. And why environmental issues have always been super close to my heart. My drive to help people, and my general love of animals and the environment have led me to where I am today. 

Get active, stay active

Mia: I think that’s so common with our generation. It’s like, we grew up hearing all these things like our planet is doomed, our oceans are gonna overflow and all the ice caps are gonna melt. We were really hearing that in elementary school. So why do you think that it’s important for our generation, Generation Z, to be engaged with social issues and especially environmental activism?

Jamie: I’ve been thinking about this question a lot because I have lots of friends who want to be more involved. Especially in this past year with so many Black Lives Matter protests and with environmental issues becoming such news catching stories, everyone feels like they should be more actively involved. And I think people want to be–it’s in the air. It’s important for us as young people to realize that it’s not scary to engage, it’s our civic duty, in a sense. We all have the responsibility to stand up for what we believe in. And by doing more than just posting on social media every so often. It starts with realizing that to help your own future and everyone’s futures, that we all need to engage daily with social issues and take action. 

Joining Gen Z for the Trees 

Mia: So, how did you find Gen Z for the trees? Why did you want to join?

Jamie: So I recently graduated, and I think we all know how bad the job market is at the moment. My plan coming out of college was that I wanted to figure out how I can best help the environment, but I didn’t know what that meant professionally. I didn’t know what jobs are great for me or what I’m really good at. So my plan was to go out there in the job market and just figure it out. But then the pandemic happened and nothing was available. 

So I was like, well, you know what? I’m just gonna take a year of my life, because this seems like a very crucial point in the human history of everything, and take this time to find things that I want to do even if I don’t get paid. I basically googled “virtual volunteer opportunities for the environment” and I found this website that had a whole bunch of links. I saw Gen Z for the Trees and I thought ‘Ooh, I like that name.’ And I just kept reading and I loved the idea of getting youth involved.

And it sounded like a great idea. Because our rainforests are such a big part of our global ecosystem and people need to know more about that. And then I kept reading about Rainforest Partnership, and I was like, Oh, dang, they’re doing everything right. By working with indigenous communities and having a holistic approach to management and everything. And so I was really drawn to that, and I’m really happy that I was able to interview and be in this position because I really believe in what we’re doing.

Advice for other young activists

Mia: If you could give your 16 year old self, or just a 16 year old today, a piece of advice, what would you say?

Jamie: I’d probably tell her that everything will be okay. It can all seem so overwhelming, and things are gonna continue to feel overwhelming. So, find people you like and work together towards goals you care about. Things will be okay because there are good people in the world even though sometimes everything seems scary.

And just in general, I’d tell people to not be afraid to volunteer for something. Put yourself out there to be able to experience something and get involved with something you care about, even if you’re kind of terrified. That’s the advice I would want.

There’s so many different levels of being an activist, and you just have to find what it means to you. And that’s so important, because we all have it in us. And it’s not as scary or hard as people think. But we need more hands on deck. We can always use more people.

Whatever your story is, we invite you to be a part of Gen Z for the Trees: