It is from our love of the land, the water, the clear blue sky, our ability to see the stars, and our place on this Earth in the communities we come from, that we work to protect our future.
Here in our feature “Grateful Changemakers,” we celebrate programs and projects that serve as beacons of gratefulness. These efforts elevate the values of grateful living and illuminate their potential to transform both individuals and communities. Join us in appreciating the inspiring and catalyzing contribution these Changemakers offer to shaping a more grateful world.
Earth Guardians inspires, connects, and trains thousands of youth around the world who want to make a positive impact in the environmental, climate, and social justice movements. During its 28 years as an organization, Earth Guardians has established a network of over 300 engaged crews across 60+ countries, conducting 450 campaigns and planting 500 thousand trees.
With an emphasis on incorporating intergenerational wisdom and Indigenous knowledge, Earth Guardians honors the intersections of the greatest issues facing us. The organization’s diverse approaches — which include direct political and legal action; art, music, and storytelling; decolonization and ecological restoration; and voter education – empower youth and their communities to make meaningful change. 18-year-old Marlow Baines is Youth Director for Earth Guardians and serves as a lead member of the Youth Council, having also authored Earth Guardian’s youth leadership curriculum and served as Earth Guardians Global Crew Director. She shares more about the ways in which the organization brings its gratefulness-related values — which include deep listening, living in connection to Earth, and honoring diversity — to life through its inspiring work.
What sparked the founding/creation of Earth Guardians?
Tamara Roske, founding and executive director of Earth Guardians, participated in ceremony at the Haleakala crater in Hawaii when she was a young woman. During the long ceremony, she fell asleep. She dreamt that hundreds of thousands of youth were in the street leading together, and the adults were supporting them. They were rising up with one voice to demand a more just and sustainable world. She awoke suddenly, realizing that she had fallen asleep, and knew that this dream was a powerful vision for her life’s work. Fast forward 27 years later, and Earth Guardians has become an international organization, with over 300 crews in more than 60 different countries. We have participated and helped organize the youth climate strikes with literally hundreds of thousands of youth pouring into the streets around the world in the last year. Earth Guardians serves to inspire and train diverse youth to be effective leaders in climate and social justice movements. Decades of work have led up to this moment in time.
How does Earth Guardians fill a need for the world? What is the importance of your work at this time in particular?
I emphasize this when I speak at conferences and in universities and schools — at Earth Guardians we know the importance of healthy communities in meeting the needs of humanity. Our very basic human needs are at the root of exploitation of Earth’s resources, which have exacerbated the climate crisis — fundamental needs for warmth, sustenance, and shelter. We use things, which come to us increasingly packaged in plastics, that are tied directly to the exploitation of oil and gas resources, to fill a fundamental need for love, inclusion, fulfillment, and celebration.
At Earth Guardians, we want youth to know that we can connect and create meaningful community, in support of doing the good work we’re here to do on the planet. My role as Youth Director is to facilitate meaningful community, and to do this, I also emphasize the need for deep listening — that we listen to the messages being brought to us about the condition of the communities where our crews live. We can only attain a more equitable and just world if we practice deep listening, connecting the dots with compassion, and seek to meet the needs of true community where it is, in its local spaces. We won’t continue to exploit resources when the “other,” any community that is foreign to us, becomes as important as our own community — when we realize that the Other is Us.
How does Earth Guardians embody and cultivate gratefulness and related qualities?
This is the message the youth bring forward: It is from our love of the land, the water, the clear blue sky, our ability to see the stars, and our place on this Earth in the communities we come from, that we work to protect our future. And as stupidly simple as it sounds, it starts with your own personal work with compassion, vulnerability, inspiration, and acknowledgement that the work is long-term and must continue. When we bring these principles to the table, we can knit together our experiences, expertise, solutions, and willingness to change. Then, and only then, we will create a more regenerative, compassionate, vulnerable, loving, supportive, equitable, and just world.
Why is it important to empower youth — especially Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) — in the ways that you do?
Ninety percent of fossil fuel-based energy infrastructure, including pipelines, refineries, and well pads, are placed in close proximity or within BIPOC communities. Our BIPOC youth are exposed to a disproportionate amount of pollution, contaminated water, air, and land. When Xiuhtezcatl and I as co-Youth Directors rebuilt the Youth Council in 2019, we were single-mindedly focused on uplifting the voices of youth leaders from these communities across North America and giving them a platform to speak for themselves. Our Youth Council focuses the energy of the youth in the climate justice movement towards developing their leadership skills, community building, community engagement, and inspiring others to get involved.
What do you think inspires youth to get involved with Earth Guardians – what are some of the motivating stories of youth who have been engaged in your work?
In my own experience, I was inspired to get involved when I witnessed the power of true human community as the pillar of building a movement. I had the opportunity to spend a short time at Standing Rock, to deliver winter supplies and food to the encampment at Sacred Stone in the Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota people’s stand against the Dakota Access Pipeline. I saw the power of the people working together to protect their culture, their sacred land, and the water. I traveled there and back with a first-generation Earth Guardian, Siri Martinez, my friend Xiuhtezcatl’s father. Siri told me that if I wanted to learn more about Earth Guardians work, I should apply as a Rising Youth for Sustainable Earth (RYSE) and join their Youth Council. I attended a training the next summer with RYSE that changed the direction of my life. What I experienced at Standing Rock was reinforced at the RYSE Youth training at Hummingbird Ranch in New Mexico — building a strong, intergenerational community is foundational to the effectiveness of protecting the earth and water. When we work together in community, listen to one another, bring our experiences and skills together, we bring solutions forward. We are the change we want to see in the world. We get to live our work, artfully, skillfully, and anchored in ceremony and celebration. When we do, we inspire others to make a meaningful difference, and when you have a community behind you, working together, in authenticity, that’s where you will see the most impactful action.
When we entered lockdown last March as COVID-19 hit, I remember leading a Global Crew Call, and I asked our crew leaders how they and their crews were doing. It was fascinating to witness their responses. There were people from all over the world, Africa, Europe, US, Canada, and they said that COVID had made them feel hopeless and alone but that this call had reinvigorated their passion and inspiration. They were so inspired by their fellow crew leaders. If anything, Earth Guardians has provided a platform for young leaders to gather in authentic community.
How does voter registration and education fit into your scope? Why is it a focus for Earth Guardians?
I mentioned Tamara’s vision at Haleakala crater in Hawaii (HI) earlier. After she had this vision, her first action was to start a school in Maui, HI, which later became an accredited high school. Earth Guardians started as a school, where students studied the history of social movements and took action to restore sandalwood forests, shut down the toxic practice of burning sugar cane, and work on other issues that directly impacted the islands. The school became recognized throughout the Hawaiian Islands and beyond, with the Dalai Lama presenting the Children’s Torch of Hope to 25 Earth Guardian students in 1995. The students carried and presented the torch at high-profile events in 29 states and delivered it to the general assembly in the United Nations (UN).
Education has always been at the core of the work that Earth Guardians does.
I think we can all agree that our world needs educated voters to elect politicians with integrity to represent community needs at the local, state, and national level. At Earth Guardians, we believe that registering young voters is critically important, to help channel their love and passion for a sustainable future and planet, and that in order to make effective choices up and down the ballot, we also have a responsibility for educating these first-time voters. The mechanisms behind political parties, and so-called “political will,” can be hard to grasp and understand, but at Earth Guardians we emphasize the power people have when they come together, especially at the local level, to implement policy change from their elected officials. Pushing local politicians to protect the land, water, air, and the health of its citizens, the health of its wildlife, and the health of our collective climate, is imperative to creating a more sustainable and just world.
How does your work manifest globally – and why is this global scope important?
Back to the story of Earth Guardians evolution and growth. After the Earth Guardians high school students carried the Torch of Hope to the UN, Tamara recognized the need to empower and give voice to a wider audience. This prompted Earth Guardians to relocate to Colorado in 1997 and engage more young people in programs to empower and amplify their voice. Earth Guardians began teaching youth about the power of political action and activism, and in Boulder, Colorado worked to stop the spraying of pesticides in public parks, helped establish an environmental fee on plastic bags, advocated for municipalizing Boulder’s energy grid and helped to achieve several moratoriums and a ban on fracking. Earth Guardians received a great deal of press and attention for local actions, allowing the organization to expand into national and international work.
Now with thousands of engaged youth on six continents, Earth Guardians has given youth a voice and direction worldwide to become effective leaders and make measurable change in their communities. Earth Guardians continues to develop the resources to build a stronger collaborative network to cultivate and support this large wave of youth engagement.
The youth of Earth Guardians recognize that humanity needs to work with compassion, courage, and heart, worldwide, and that to impact and survive the climate crisis, we need global action and change. We also recognize that youth from one part of the world don’t know what needs to change in communities on the other side of the globe, and that we can’t implement solutions unless they meet the needs of their local communities. For this reason, Earth Guardians is a decentralized network of crews working locally, and sharing what works best with each other, when we connect on our Global Crew Calls. We have enough humility to recognize that we don’t know what is going to work everywhere, which is the reason we practice deep listening, connection, and provide the tools and resources we do, to our youth leaders across the globe.
What is the lasting impact of your work? What are the ripple effects?
We’ve seen our movement grow, from a high school on Maui, HI with 25 students carrying the Dalai Lama’s Torch of Hope across North America in 1995, to hundreds of thousands of students out on the streets in 2019 for the Youth Climate Strikes. When we look back at our impact, we see that the work Earth Guardians has done has trained and inspired so many more youth leaders across the United States (US) and the globe.
What are some stories of how youth have impacted their communities by sharing their voice and serving as leaders – as empowered through your programs?
Oh wow, there are so many!! During my first RYSE youth training, I met Jackson Hinckle, Aji Piper, Alex Trevino, Vic Barret, and of course Xiuhtezcahtl Martinez.
- Jackson took what he learned and his inspiration from that training and organized a campaign at his high school and throughout his school district to remove single-use plastic water bottles out of the vending machines and offer instead JUST water bottles, which are far less carbon- and fossil fuel-intensive in their production and recycling.
- Alex Trevino took what she learned and her inspiration back to her community in Beaumont, Texas in the very heart of the Oil Corridor of the US to advocate for protection of the health and safety of her community.
- Vic Barret has used the platform afforded to him by Our Children’s Trust and Earth Guardians as a plaintiff of the Youth v. Gov (Juliana v. the United States) — of which Earth Guardians is the only organizational plaintiff — to educate and inform audiences across the globe about the importance of holding governments accountable for protecting our environment and our future.
In 2019, after a couple-year lapse, Xiuhtezactl and I co-created and selected the Earth Guardians Youth Council, made up of incredible youth leaders like Nina Berglund, Esperanza Garcia, Sierra Robinson, Tony Soto, and Leala Pourier.
- Nina has worked tirelessly to raise the Indigenous youth voice in the fight against Enbridge Line 3 and the Black Lives Matter movement in Minnesota.
- Esperanza Garcia represented Earth Guardians in the Earth Day 2020 livestream last April, our Divestment Campaign with Stop the Money Pipeline, and in coordinating National Climate Youth Strikes with Future Coalition.
- Sierra Robinson spoke on the TedX stage in Seattle about her work with regenerative agriculture and has organized direct actions along the west coast of British Columbia as our Regional Crew Director for Canada in support of the Wet’suwet’en People’s resistance of the Trans Mountain Pipeline.
- Tony Soto uses his upbringing in a matrilineal family as a descendent of the Chorotega and Huetar Indigenous groups in Costa Rica to address issues of gender inequalities and roles, and to deeply reimagine and create new academic and policy making structures that have historically been used to advance colonialism. He continues to work with Earth Guardians on our Decolonized Leadership youth training program.
- Leala Pourier, since she was 15, has worked alongside her father serving the needs of her community through their work with the Stronghold Society, which promotes physical and mental health and healthy lifestyles for both Native and non-Native communities She currently serves on the Earth Guardians Youth Council, participating in and helping plan the Earth Guardians Indigenous Youth Leadership Training in 2019. And as a youth organizer, Leala helped plan and presented at the Zero Hour Rally in Denver, speaking about the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous women surrounding oil drill sites.
Our crews in Africa are doing incredible work, with our Regional Crew Director Mensa Tsedze having started crews in at least 10 countries on the continent and planting tens of thousands of trees as an effort to carbon capture via reforestation. We have over 300 crews in 60+ countries worldwide, doing work to remove plastic from waterways and oceans, advocate for climate policy, plan direct action protests and Youth Climate Strikes, and coordinate community art projects to build community and raise awareness about the climate crisis.
What are some of the common barriers and obstacles that arise for the organization as a whole and for the youth involved? How are they addressed?
This year we saw the rise of the Black Lives Matters movement, which really gave our organization pause. Our Youth Council dug deeply into the issues of equitable representation in leadership, the optics of the organization, and how we present ourselves on our social media channels. One of the obstacles we’ve encountered is that the communities represented by our youth leaders are not equally represented in the staffing and leadership of the organization. While this is a difficult and complex issue, we’re working to address these issues. If Earth Guardians can’t figure out how to practice equity at all levels of our organization, we hardly have hope for the planet to figure it out. I believe in our team and community at Earth Guardians and know we have the resources and capacity to do the hard work to acknowledge these inequities, course correct for the future, and heal, together.
And as a nonprofit organization, especially in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic, monetary funding is a big struggle. We’re always coming up against funding constraints when looking at best ways to support our global community of Earth Guardians youth crews.
How does Earth Guardians plan to grow?
We’ve grown so much in the last two years that we’re really looking at stabilizing our internal process and systems to make the growth of the organization sustainable. At the core of the work we do, we provide our youth-led crews with leadership skills and education, and we’re working to upload much of our content to our online platform, the Earth Guardians Community Resource Center. We’re planning for 2021 now, and how best to integrate the feedback and meet the needs we’re hearing from our youth leaders across the country and the globe.
What is one of the most essential messages you hope to share with those who are involved in Earth Guardians?
At Earth Guardians we aren’t tackling the climate crisis in any one specific way. We don’t pretend to have all the answers, but we do acknowledge that we can strive to live as whole human beings in healthy community, in harmony with our planet, Mother Earth, and all her creatures. Earth Guardians embraces youth leaders who create change locally through their art, through their activism by taking direct action in their communities or through advocating for policy change, or through their leadership, whether its demanding that our politicians fairly represent their constituents or by holding government accountable through our legal challenges.
Earth Guardians exists to bring people together, to create spaces where youth leaders can be vulnerable and be authentic, and where we can learn from one another. Earth Guardians is providing youth with a platform to share their innovative ideas and foster their leadership skills so that they can effectively execute their brilliant plans, and take tangible action. We exist to empower our youth leaders because we will be the ones who inherit the results of the climate crisis and who will have to lead our communities with resiliency and heart in the future.
If you could share one message about living gratefully, what would it be?
Take a deep breath. Feel yourself grounded in your seat with your feet resting on Mother Earth. When you are overwhelmed, return to the breath. Always return to the breath.
When we return to the breath, we allow our mind to still, remembering that through our breath we are all connected. Our breath reminds us that we are each a part of this one connected ecosystem: planet Earth. And with your very living breath, bring the fullness of who you are to your work; bring your unique understanding; bring your vulnerability, your connections, compassion, and empathy into your conversations at work, within your home, in your community, with your friends — and be willing to stand up for what is best for one another in harmony with all life on this planet, even if that isn’t the popular position. In order to live gratefully we must be willing to be real and be vulnerable, we must be willing to accept and acknowledge our mistakes, and gratefully learn from them as we learn from the others around us. I’m steeped in gratitude when I’m surrounded by healthy community!
What are some meaningful ways people of all ages can support your work?
When it comes to the climate crisis, we need all hands on deck. If you are a young person, start an Earth Guardians crew in your school, with your close circle of friends, or with your family, to begin to tackle local climate issues within your community. If you are an adult, find a way to support this movement with the resources you have! For example, if you are a scientist, offer to teach people in your community about what the climate crisis is, or if you are a CEO look at the bottom line from a socially conscious perspective. Anyone with the financial capacity: Know that, now more than ever, our nonprofits doing the hard work of community building, support, and protection need your monetary support! Donate your time, donate your services, donate products if you have that to donate. If you are working to simply get by, take a moment each day to look up at the blue sky or gaze at the resiliency of a green plant growing through the cracks of the cement, and take a deep breath and give thanks to planet Earth, who has always provided for your lineage and family.
Truly, to overcome the climate crisis, we need every human to engage on every level to shift humanity onto the path of a more equitable and regenerative world.
Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you here.
To read more about the inspiring initiatives and programs of Earth Guardians, visit the website: Earthguardians.org
To learn about other Grateful Changemakers, visit: Grateful Changemakers
Do you know of a project/program that elevates the values of grateful living? If so, we invite you to nominate them for our Grateful Changemaker article series.