Featured image: Marcela Villasenor (@mvillasenor), “The Weight,” 2020, with permission.

About the Symposium

The University of Oklahoma’s Center for Peace and Development (CPD) and the Security in Context (SIC) initiative hosted their first Youth Perspectives on Climate Change Symposium on April 20, 2022. The symposium brought together young changemakers from Brazil, the Maldives, the Indigenous communities of Sarayaku and Shiwiar of Ecuador, and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The climate crisis is often perceived as an issue of the future. In contrast, the stories from these panelists and their communities for the symposium highlighted decades of environmental injustices and climatic challenges. The panelists addressed key issues ranging from environmental racism and marine conservation to the crucial role of Indigenous communities as front leaders of the environment.

The symposium was a Global South- and Indigenous-focused climate awareness event. It offered an opportunity for panelists to advocate for communities that need critical attention and for attendees to challenge common misconceptions about the current climate crisis.

The symposium was organized by Nayifa Nihad and Felipe Flores and supported by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Dr. Demir Firat, Dr. Angela Person, and America Gaviria Pavon provided organizational assistance.

Meet the Panelists

Gabrielle Alves
Political activist from Brasilia, Brazil

Learn more

Asa Samuels
Wildlife conservationist from The Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and descendant of The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, USA

Learn more

Nafha Asim
Marine biologist and environmental conservationist from Male’ City, Maldives

Learn more

Helena Gualinga
Environmental and human rights activist from the Indigenous community of Sarayaku, Ecuador

Learn more

Efren Nango
Environmental engineer from the Indigenous community of Shiwiar, Ecuador

Learn more

View Panelist Interviews

Gabrielle Alves (Brazil)

Asa Samuels (USA)

Nahfa Asim (Maldives)

Helena Gualinga (Ecuador)

Efren Nango (Ecuador)

View the Panel Discussion

Click “play” below to view presentations from and discussion with Gabrielle Alves (Brazil), Asa Samuels (Oklahoma, USA), Nafha Asim (Maldives), Helena Gualinga (Ecuador) and Efren Nango (Ecuador).

Symposium Takeaways and Action Items

Main Takeaways

The following key takeaways emerged from the panel discussion:

  1. Community building is crucial for the survival of local cultures and the environment
  2. Social and environmental justice are intertwined in the fight against the climate crisis
  3. Climate justice without social justice is the new colonialism
  4. Social transformation is a combination of research and political action 
  5. Tribal engagement means building relationships between institutions and tribes 
  6. Global actions, where everyone is involved, are needed for a global climate crisis

Action Items

The following key action items emerged from the panel discussion:

  1. Reduce your footprint in the planet
  2. Influence policies that create public participation and transparency 
  3. Raise your voice in support of nature
  4. Get children more involved in protecting the environment and preserving traditional cultures
  5. To protect biodiversity, we need to protect Indigenous people 

Meet the Organizers

Nayifa Nihad, CPD Fellow from the Maldives

Organizers’ Reflections

The Youth Perspectives on Climate Change Symposium was an open platform for new generations of agents who are voluntarily fighting against the current climate crisis. We had speakers from North and South America, as well as Africa. Most of them shared something in common: the effects of the climate crisis are affecting their communities, as well as the ecosystems -like the Amazon Rainforest in South America, the reef corals in the Maldives, or the Glaciers in Alaska- that are crucial for the preservation of our long-term planet. 

We have, also, learned how the climate crisis affects different communities around the globe, and the deeper and complex issues that accentuates the vulnerability of these communities. While the effects of globalization have been mostly detrimental to the environment and minority groups, we can see the effectiveness of young activists and indigenous leaders speaking out on social platforms against the environmental threats facing their communities and the world in general. Everyday, people around the world start to realize that the climate crisis is no longer a myth but a reality that affects all of us. Therefore, the need for feasible solutions to reduce our footprint on the planet are crucial at this point of history. 

During the symposium, most of our speakers mentioned that being an activist or a leader fighting for their communities was not a choice but the only option they have. We also hope that these remarks by our panelists have inspired you to take action and will start or continue to do your individual parts in this global issue. 

– Nayifa & Felipe, May 2022

Contact us at nayifanihad@ou.edu or ff@ou.edu to learn more.