When Alec first saw “Inconvenient Truth” at age 12, he was so moved he applied to be one of Al Gore’s presenters, but was rejected because of his age. Instead of waiting to “grow up,” Alec created his own thing -- Kids vs Global Warming . In the past 3 years Alec has emerged as one of the most powerful young leaders in the environmental space presenting to over 25,000 people, including the US Senate. He is now working on organizing an international event to activate 1 million youth world-wide to take a stand against climate change.
Alec took some time out from him world-changing to answer a few questions for us.
DoSomething.org: What person or experience sticks with you from the beginning of the process?
Alec Loorz: I’d say the most memorable moment was the night I saw Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” and first learned about the crisis of global warming. Seeing that movie changed my life forever. I felt this unique sense of calling that I’d never experienced before. And I just knew I needed to do something about what I later realized was the most urgent issue of our time. The next day, after getting into a heated argument with a friend at school, I stayed up late and researched everything I could learn about climate change, to prove my friend wrong. And the more I learned, the more I realized what it was that I had to do. I decided I wanted to give presentations about climate change, and it has grown from there.
DS: How did you feel when you first learned of the problem you’re addressing?
AL: Honestly, ever since seeing the movie, I’ve felt that I’m being called to stop global warming in my lifetime. I know that might sound arrogant or crazy... sometimes even I don’t believe it myself. But I know that is what I’m called to do. The great environmentalist David Brower once said something that encouraged me though. He said, “I’m always impressed with what young people can do before older people tell them it’s impossible.” I realize that climate change is going to affect my generation most, and I feel that we, as youth, need to do everything we can to solve this crisis, before anyone can tell us it’s impossible.
DS: How do you feel about it now?
AL: I still feel that sense of calling, but I’m beginning to realize the true enormity and urgency of this crisis. This challenge we have before us does seem impossible to stop. What needs to happen is so huge that it’s already forced masses of people (including, sometimes, me) to go into denial or despair when they think about it. The revolution we need has to transform more than just the way we use energy. It has to transform the hardest thing of all: the way we think. Our value system needs to shift so that we consider the needs of nature and future generations with every decision we make. This is a huge challenge, but I honestly, truly believe it can happen, and it’s going to take all of us.
DS: Who is your inspiration to keep going?
AL: I have a whole list of heroes, but the ones who inspire me the most are future generations. Even though my children and grandchildren don’t exist yet, they are what keep me motivated in this fight. If we don’t make the right decisions now, they will be stuck dealing with tragic consequences. I am empowered to do everything I can to solve this crisis, so the generations yet unborn will not have to.
DS: Can you describe the moment you knew you were actually making a difference?
AL: Soon after I began giving presentations, people started writing to me on my website and telling me in person that I totally inspired them to get involved. This is when I realized that I was actually inspiring people. Ever since the beginning, youth and their parents have told me things like, “Before your talk, I cared about global warming, but nobody was listening to me. Now I know I have the power to make a difference.” It’s just so empowering to hear things like that, especially when these kids go on to start their own projects. In fact, after one of my first speeches, one of the students I talked to was so inspired that she went on to give speeches of her own, about violence in her inner-city community in San Diego. This kind of involvement is what I aim to accomplish.
DS: What was the most difficult roadblock you faced when you tried to start your project?
AL: After being inspired by seeing “An Inconvenient Truth,” I decided I wanted to give presentations like Al Gore, my new hero at that time. I heard he was training 1000 people as part of a program called The Climate Project. So I went ahead and applied. But I was 12 years old at that time, so I was rejected. I was a bit disappointed, but I just decided to do it on my own anyway. I made a presentation, gathering information from places like the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,) and I began to give it at different events around California. Eventually, I met Al Gore, and he invited me to be officially trained, and here I am today. I’ve now given over 150 presentations and spoken to over 30,000 people.
DS: What about when you were trying to grow your project?
AL: I’d have to say the biggest roadblock now is just the constant travel. We’ve ended up saying yes to almost all of the invitations that I get, and this is resulting in a nasty case of burnout. For example, I was in 8 different cities during the 2 weeks surrounding Earth Day. If not for anything else, that carbon footprint is seriously not cool. Another roadblock I’ve had to overcome a few times (and will probably continue) is the occasional lack of motivation. I sometimes just feel hopeless, like there is no way we can overcome the huge task of solving global warming. But then it violently hits me, at a very deep level: this is what I’m called to do. And then the inspiration comes back.
DS: What’s been the biggest lesson throughout the process?
AL: I guess the biggest thing I’ve learned is that, to solve the crisis of global warming, it’s going to take a lot more than just the simple actions in our homes, as important as those are. I’ve realized that what it’s really going to take is a revolution to transform the mindset of every person living on this planet. It’s going to be difficult, because this is a “see it to believe it” kind of society. We are not personally suffering yet because of climate change, so it’s hard to get people to realize that we need to take action. But I believe with all my heart that we are up to the challenge. We can change our own lifestyles, we can change our communities, and we can most definitely start a revolution to transform the mindset of this entire planet.
DS: What has surprised you the most about the journey that has taken you here today?
AL: Just the fact that I’ve gotten to where I am today is surprising. I’m invited to speak by celebrities and people with PhDs. People talk about me as a major youth climate activist. I have no idea why. I feel like I’ve hardly done anything. And yet, I get presented with awards and stuff all the time. Maybe it’s just because I found my passion and went for it. I realized that this is what I want to do with my life, and that is what seems to be inspiring to people.
DS: What advice do you have for other kids who are having a tough time getting their ideas off the ground?
AL: Youth sometimes ask me, “How can I do what you do?” And the only advice I can think to give them is: Just do it. Just go for it. Just figure out what your passion is and do everything you possibly can to make it happen. Find mentors. Work with others. Be open to possibilities. And don’t think for a second that you aren’t making a difference. Because youth sometimes think, “I’m just a kid, what difference can I make?” But really, we have more power than you could possibly imagine to change the world.
DS: If you could have done one thing differently based on what you know now, what would it be? Why?
AL: I guess if I were to choose one thing, it would be making sure that I’ve been living a balanced life even while being really busy. There are times when I am so caught up with doing this work that I don’t make time for hanging out with my friends or doing my own creative projects or just playing out in nature.
DS: What’s next for your project?
AL: For this year, I’ve worked to develop a state-of-the-art iPhone app called iMatter. It features a virtual map to connect together youth from all over the world who are working on climate change related projects. It brings local, grassroots actions together as a unified virtual movement. Once we have this community, we are planning an event for next year called the iMatter March. It will consist of a million kids coming together to let the ruling generation know that we care about climate change, and want our future to be a top priority. There will be separate marches all across the world, organized at the grassroots level, by youth who care about the environment and climate change. We are going to issue a wake up call that will be so loud, so provocative, and so unquestioning that it will be impossible to ignore.