Toward the end of the first day of the Washington Global Issues Network conference at Chief Sealth International High School, West Seattle climate activist Aji Piper, 16, took the stage as a keynoter.
The question he started with was simple: “How did I get involved in the environmental movement and why?”
The answers, complex. We recorded his almost-hour-long speech on video:
Piper spoke about his work, from early participation in Plant for the Planet, to being one of what are now 21 young plaintiffs suing the federal government over its failure to protect their rights to clean air and water.
“Climate change means life as we know it will change,” he declared. And he recounted some life-changing climate events that have rocked the globe already, from 314+ square miles of wildfire damage last year – “more than 152,000 football fields” – to storms like Hurricane Sandy.
“I thought about my home. What did this all mean for the people and places I love? What do I do with this knowledge? … I’m one person in a world of 7 billion people. What am I going to do about this?”
What he has done in the past several years started with planting trees to writing and performing protest songs with a ukulele, as he learned about new issues including oil trains and Arctic drilling. To challenge the latter, he wrote and performed a protest song, with his ukulele, at a Seattle Port Commission meeting (his slide for this featured a framegrab of WSB video from that 2015 meeting). And he joined in the “kayaktivism” off West Seattle’s shore as the Polar Pioneer drilling rig floated in.
He got involved with Earth Guardians.
And then there was the lawsuit, which, he said, hasn’t gone to trial yet, but has had several hearings. (He and his co-plaintiffs have had international publicity because of it.) They’re representing everyone in the U.S., he asserted, saying we all have rights to clean water and air, and “a livable future.”
WAGIN continues Saturday at Sealth, with the ~100 student attendees from all over the state spending the day in workshops and hearing from three more keynote speakers, including Seattle activist and mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver toward day’s end. This is the second time in three years that Sealth has hosted the conference.