Harmonie Ramsden is a student at Princeton High School who hosted Princeton Youth Climate Week and is calling on Princeton University to divest from fossil fuels.
1. What made you passionate about climate advocacy?
When I lived in Davidson, North Carolina, there was a pond, and the mayor actually developed plans to build a hotel on the pond, although this was a neighborhood staple and we all spent a lot of time there. So, me, my sister, and two of our neighbors worked with community members to found this organization called “Save Davidson” and we spent basically a year lobbying out local politicians and asking them to switch this from being a hotel to the Altman Project to wither leaving it or working on revitalizing the space so that there could be a more healthy ecosystem. After about a year of work we were able to be successful and ended up building this park on the land and the mayor who had proposed the project was voted out in favor of a progressive candidate who had lived near us in the neighborhood and had supported our campaign.That really showed me the power that individuals can have over influencing policy and how if we unite together to work against this problem of climate injustice then we can really make systemic change. I think with so much closing in and so little time left to make action on climate change, it is extremely crucial that we work to mitigate carbon emissions and greenhouse gas emissions because there is only so much time left and we are in a watershed of our history where we need to decide whether we want to protect our climate or to protect our industries.
2. What is the Princeton Youth Climate Week, and what inspired you to create it?
The Princeton Youth Climate Week was something that I created as a project as a part of “Project Green Challenge”, which was a month-long challenge in October. There were people from all around the world competing in it and I was chosen to be one of the finalists and each finalist developed a project. So, for my project, I decided to make this climate festival and originally this was going to be at my school during a school day and since it was in October, I hoped it would be in-person by the time it was hosted in March. Unfortunately, once we hit around January we realized that it was not going to be the case, so we had to switch it to something that happened independently. I really wanted to create an event that was accessible to everyone because climate activism is so extremely hard to be a part of right now, both because of climate anxiety and because of the toxicity of youth activist atmospheres. There is this constant existential dread with a lot of climate organizers because the topic that we are working on is so abysmal right now. I think it is really important that people connect with their passion, whether it would be poetry, sewing, or climate change and seeing what affects the climate is going to have on their passions. Also, to see how their passions can help work to solve this crisis.
3. Your activism seems to have a focus on environmental injustice in low-income communities. Can you explain why?
I would say it is definitely not something that I consciously developed. They were specific passions towards working on climate issues in low-income communities but i think it is really just a by-product of climate activism because there is such a disproportionate impact of climate change on these communities, especially, black an indigenous communities who are also low-income, like Newark and New Jersey. There are so many toxic sites that are killing residents and are very majority black. It is so evident that climate change is affecting everyone but it is going to affect me, living in upper middle class suburbs, as much as it affects someone living somewhere like Newark, Florida, or an island. I think it is so crucial to focus on resolving this issue in the communities that are going to face it most, because oftentimes those communities that are rally on the front-lines of climate activism. Although, I will never understand what they are going through, I am lucky enough to have the privilege to not worry as much about climate change’s effects on me. I think it is really important that we center black, indigenous, and people of color advocacy in our work because the climate crisis is really going to affect them first.
4. As a high school student, how do you feel like your age affects your stance on climate issues and your activism overall?
As a high school student, my age really affects my stance because I am able to think of it in a more modern light. A lot of people who oppose climate legislation are older and that is because they have not really fathomed the idea that everything they thought was so strong and so environmentally conscious a decade ago has completely turned onto its head, constantly seeing these different industries being exposed as climate pollutants, growing up with this sense of dread about the climate lowers my expectations of companies. It has made it so that I am not putting a company on a pedestal just for installing a recycling program or something like that. I think youth really bring a fresh light to this climate advocacy movement. We have not seen a movement like we see now in decades, whether it would be a youth climate change movement, youth Black Lives Matter movement, or a gun violence movement. These youth-led movements are so incredibly powerful and they are really making change that adults haven’t been able to and we put passion into it because we see how precedent it is. A lot of these people are thinking about retaining tradition. My age affects how I perceive my activism and say I have this sort of existential dread about a lot of these issues that makes it so crucial to me to make an effort for mitigating these issues.
5. What do you hope to see in the future regarding climate action in New Jersey, and the country as a whole? How do you wish to contribute to these changes?
In the future, I definitely want to see a Green New Deal as a country and a Green New Deal that, as I said before, specifically focuses on the effects of climate change on communities like flint or reservations because indigenous climate restoration has been working for centuries to preserve our environment before colonization. I think recentering those types of movements is really important and I think that as well we need to have a focus on urban lower-income, majority-black communities when we’re crafting climate action. I think that it needs to be sweeping progressive reforms because at this point we can't just have a carbon tax, but you can just tax wind power and nuclear power. It needs to be multifaceted and it needs to be an extremely progressive and sweet thing that will affect all of the different problems that are happening in our climate right now. Me and other people doing what we are doing now, attending protests and organizing movements like this are really able to make a change and work to create an equitable future where we aren’t having this existential dread about climate change. For now, direct action is definitely the way that I am going because I am not sure if I will ever work with public policy. I am not sure if I even want to because it is so corrupt but I definitely want to keep working on direct action and education of people because education is the first step towards creating a really strong unified movement of solidarity.