‘Why Study for a Future That’s Not Going to Exist?’

14-year-old Sarah Goody explains how she found her place in a global movement of youth activists who are confronting the adult world.

Sarah Goody spends her Fridays protesting climate change in front of San Francisco’s Ferry Building.
Sarah Goody spends her Fridays protesting climate change in front of San Francisco’s Ferry Building. (Martin do Nascimento / Earthjustice)

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Sarah Goody spends her Fridays protesting climate change in front of San Francisco’s Ferry Building. The 14-year-old found her place in a global movement of youth activists who are confronting the adult world. Earthjustice is amplifying these young leaders as part of our Zero To 100 campaign to highlight climate solutions. This is her story in her own words, edited for clarity and brevity.

It began with a teacher

In the 6th grade, my science teacher, Miss Newburn, introduced us to the idea of climate change. This was really eye-opening for me — and the first time I felt truly passionate about something.

At first I was just kind of anxious about it. Knowing that society could end is really scary. But it turned from fear into this motivation.

At the time I was recovering from depression — not because of climate change — but I actually think climate change helped me realize that I wasn’t the only person in the world struggling. It helped me get out of my head and focus on something else besides myself. And that was really a great discovery for me.

From depression to community

The only way I thought I could make a difference was if I started a nonprofit or if I raised tons of money. But eventually I learned that was not the only way.

I found this Youth Empowered Action camp. That summer, I finally met people who were like me. What they taught me there was that you can start small, and that it’s better to be doing something than nothing.

One of my counselors was the founder of an organization called Greening Forward. I joined their youth council and they sent me to one of their annual events in New York. While there, I learned about a girl named Alexandria Villaseñor. She has been striking in front of the U.N. I went and striked with her on that Friday.

And that was when I learned about this movement called Fridays for the Future, started by a Swedish teen, Greta Thunberg. She started ditching school and striking for the climate crisis because she felt that no one was taking leadership and it was up to her. Then other people started adopting it.

I went home to the San Francisco Bay Area and was actually really surprised to find that there weren’t any children striking every Friday.

So I felt like it was up to me to be that person.

Skipping school to educate

Why study for a future that’s not going to exist? If these politicians and these leaders aren’t taking action, what are we supposed to do? Let our planet just burn? I couldn’t do that.

I decided the only way I was going to really get attention from people and really start bringing the climate crisis to everyone is if you’re not there at school. That’s not something they can just let slide under.

At first my parents were kind of skeptical. Struggling with depression and anxiety and OCD, school was just not a place I enjoyed, and I would often try to skip. So at first they were kind of like, “Well, are you really doing it for that, or are you trying to get out of school?” They know me well enough to know I needed to do this. It wasn’t for myself.

At school I wasn’t super close with many people. I had been made fun of several times for my passion for the climate crisis. I had been yelled at in the hallways, like, “climate dork,” I had been told you need to chill down, stop it, back off. I had gotten negative comments on my Instagram accounts from fellow classmates.

When I went to Youth Empowered Action camp, that was really where I felt like I wasn’t alone — I wasn’t the only kid who felt this way.

Connections on the concrete

I usually wake up at around 7:00, when I would usually wake up for school. My dad works in the city, so usually I’ll go with him. I have my sign and my chair — which I eventually learned I needed after long hours on the concrete — and my backpack and my water bottle.

And I sit down in front of the Ferry Building and I stay there for about five hours. I hold my sign up and I try to connect with the people. I want people to think that they can come up to me.

I actually have lots of travelers come visit me. Lots of young people from Sweden or Britain or Germany. And I have them come up to me and be like, “Where’s everyone else?” Where they are from, the streets are filled with kids every single Friday. And here it’s just me sometimes, maybe one other person. And they’re really like, “What is wrong with the United States?”

We’re going to need everyone

Through activism I have been able to get over depression. I’ve been able to find my purpose in life and connect with all these amazing people who make me feel like I’m not alone and who I actually enjoy being with.

I hope to continue making a difference, continue inspiring people, and doing all I can to help raise a solution and get rid of this climate crisis.

We need a change in the structure of how our economy works, of how everything works. And sometimes that’s really daunting and it’s scary because how can just one 14-year-old do that? It’s a lot. So I tend to think back to how if everyone unites, this may be possible. It’s not going to be possible with one, or two, or three, or a hundred people. We’re going to need everyone in this.

Martin is a trilingual returned Peace Corps Volunteer who holds dual-MA degrees in Journalism and Latin American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.