When you read about Jerome Foster II’s accomplishments, you’d be forgiven for assuming that he’s worked in the public sector for decades. He serves on the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council; is one of the major organizers of Fridays for Future Washington, which holds weekly climate strikes in front of the White House; helped to organize three of the largest climate marches in the Washington, D.C. area; and is the executive director of OneMillionOfUs, an international youth advocacy and voting rights organization. That would be an impressive resume for someone at the end of their career, but Jerome is only 19 years old.
In today’s episode he talks about why he’s devoted himself to addressing the climate crisis, shares advice on how we can all take positive action, and tells why, despite all of the challenges, he’s hopeful for the future.
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“It’s the system that has to change because the system is what caused the problem.”
Small actions taken by individuals won’t solve the climate emergency; meaningful change has to come from the government and corporations. As Jerome explains, “There’s the fossil industry which pays the officials to not take action and that’s why we don’t have climate action. It’s just that the system is money in politics. And people have to understand that beyond voting, we have to also be actively aware and actively pushing our elected officials if we don’t elect people that are real champions of the people.”
“If a company makes a product, they have to be accountable to that product that they make and what happens to it.”
Companies place the responsibility to live sustainably on the consumer, but very few people have the option to change their lifestyle in a meaningful way. It’s the companies that need to take action. It’s almost impossible to shift away from using plastic, but a company like Coca Cola could revert back to the way it used to do business, when it sold soda in returnable glass bottles.
What consumers can do is choose companies that only create renewable products. So many companies produce one sustainable product, then use those profits towards the production of other materials that destroy the planet. Jerome advises that consumers should “tell that larger company, say Coca Cola, that until all of your products are sustainable, it doesn’t matter that one of your bottles is sustainable because that one bottle is fueling the whole system.”
“You shouldn’t tell them about the scale of the climate crisis, what you should really do is tell them about how to live sustainably.”
Jerome believes that scaring young people about the enormity of the climate crisis does more harm than good. Instead they should be taught to view sustainable living, like having solar panels on a house or driving an electric car, as the norm, and “that is how you can raise a generation that sees gas powered cars, and coal, oil, and natural gas as how my generation sees the rotary phone and sees the VHS, like it’s outdated.”
“It just feels like your future was stolen, quite honestly.”
Previous generations have left it to young people who had no part in the destruction of the environment to repair it, while taking no responsibility themselves. As Jerome says, “I didn’t reap any of the benefits that you did when you had fun making this mess. Now I have to spend all of my waking hours fixing what you did and you don’t even have the respect to come back and help me clean it up. I think that what we’re asking people to do is to help. We don’t need apologies. We know that you may not have known back in the day when it was happening that you’re making a mess. But now you know, so come and help and come be a part of this movement.”
“The impetus to why I founded OneMillionOfUs is to have an organization that brought together all justice movements under the umbrella of voting.”
While interning for Rep. John Lewis, Jerome realized that many social issues intersect, so why not have advocates for all of them join together? He created OneMillionOfUs to unite them, “so that whenever we organize a strike or protest or civil disobedience that immediately transitions into voting. And the slogan was ‘take it to the streets, take it to the polls’ and ‘today we strike, tomorrow we vote.’”
Jerome says he feels the most hopeful about the future of the planet “when I’m at climate strike and going in the streets, going out with my friends and saying what needs to be done.” There’s a tremendous amount to do, but he’ll never give up.
“I just keep pushing forward because people sent me here to fight for them So I’m going to keep on fighting no matter what.”
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“Thank you” to Jerome. We look forward to hearing your thoughts on the show.