Tom's of Maine Incubator: Meet Youth Climate Movement Leader Zanagee Artis

By Ashley Ess in Thinking Sustainably

Climate change solutions go hand in hand with environmental justice, and the youth climate movement is at the forefront of taking action for equitable solutions. This is why Tom's of Maine created the Incubator Program. This initiative provides funding, support, and mentorship to environmental leaders from underrepresented communities to amplify their voices and bring attention to their work, such as protecting water sources, supporting sustainable food systems, and transitioning to renewable energy sources.

Meet Zanagee Artis, Youth Climate Movement Leader

Zanagee Artis is one of the five leaders selected for the 2024 Tom's of Maine Incubator Program. As a co-founder of Zero Hour, Zanagee works to elevate the voices of young people of color and people on the front lines of the climate crisis. He also co-hosted a podcast for children about climate justice and co-authored A Kids Book About Climate Change. We had the opportunity to ask him some questions about his work and vision for the future.

Zanagee, tell us about your background. What started your interest in environmentalism?

I grew up on the coast of Connecticut, and marine ecosystems have always been important to me. When I was homeschooled as a kid, I frequented Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Connecticut, which gave me a window into the diversity of life the ocean fosters. This fascination led me to create my high school's sustainability committee, and we raised enough money to install a water bottle fill station. At the time, I thought that eliminating ocean-bound plastic and reducing personal energy consumption were the most important things I could do for the environment. However, when I co-founded Zero Hour, I learned about climate justice and all of the communities across the United States who live with pollution in their backyards. I grew up with access to clean air, clean water, forests, and the ocean. Access to nature and a stable climate is a right that hasn't been guaranteed for everyone, and I co-founded Zero Hour to change that.

How do you plan to leverage the Tom's of Maine Incubator Program's support?

Zero Hour is campaigning in the US and around the world to end the era of fossil fuels and achieve a just transition to renewable energy. We're organizing because the youngest generations of people on Earth will inherit a world devastated by climate change if our leaders don't phase out fossil fuels today. I'm excited to be working with Tom's of Maine to share our vision for a world with climate justice.

Right now, we're fighting to stop the buildout of liquified natural gas (LNG). Between existing and proposed permits, LNG facilities along the Gulf Coast could determine the world's ability to meet climate targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement. If current LNG exports continue and all of the proposed export terminals are built, they would produce emissions equivalent to 688 coal-fired power plants every year. It's the people versus fossil fuels, and Zero Hour is fighting to win a livable planet!

What do you hope to gain from the Incubator Program?

Since we led the youth climate marches globally in 2018, our movement has continued to grow. I'm excited to use this Incubator Program to take our movement to new heights and inspire even more people to join us in organizing for climate justice.

How do you see climate change disproportionately impacting underrepresented communities?

Black, Indigenous, and low-income communities continue to bear the brunt of pollution in the US. Black Americans are 75 percent more likely than others to live near facilities that produce hazardous waste. Projects like the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline, and the ConocoPhillips Willow Project continue to violate and threaten Indigenous sovereignty. These communities are seen as sacrifice zones—the paths of least resistance to more profit—by the fossil fuel industry and elected officials alike. Globally, people of color are experiencing the worst impacts of the climate crisis but have contributed the least to historic greenhouse gas emissions.

How can we make the mainstream environmental movement more inclusive and representative of diverse voices?

Zero Hour's Guiding Principles explain the following:

"Those who are on the frontlines of any movement should lead that movement. On the frontlines of climate change are the Global South, People of Color, Indigenous Peoples, Youth, People with Disabilities, Poor People, Women, Queer and Trans People, and People belonging to marginalized faiths. In our youth movement to combat climate change, we uplift the youth voices of these communities. Youth leadership is transformational and visionary. Youth must lead because they have always shifted culture towards progress and collective liberation."

It is time for the movement to take the lead from frontline communities.

Why do you think it's important for the LGBTQIA+ community to become involved in the climate movement?

In addition to my childhood on the coast, my parents were a huge inspiration for me becoming a climate activist. My moms sued and won same-sex marriage equality in the state of Connecticut and went on to sue the federal government for their right to marry. They fought for their rights against all odds, and they inspired me to do the same. Every social justice struggle is connected, and we need every person who has been denied rights and is systematically marginalized to organize for justice with us.

Environmental justice is more than a stable climate—it's safety and prosperity for all the places we call home. Environmental justice is an end to militarism, police brutality, gun violence, and violence against the LGBTQIA+ community. Achieving environmental justice will end systemic racism, exploitative capitalism, colonialism, and patriarchy. That is the world we're fighting for, and it will take all of us to get it.

What advice would you give someone who wants to get involved in climate organizing but doesn't know where to start?

Everyone starts somewhere! I started my climate justice journey addressing plastic waste. If you don't know where to start, ask yourself what problem you want to solve. Your answer to that question will be where you're most passionate and most effective. I want to end the era of fossil fuels, so I led the Youth Climate March and co-founded Zero Hour to work toward that. We're writing letters to elected officials, petitioning the Biden Administration, leading protests, winning elections, and risking arrest to see the vision of a world without fossil fuels be realized. You can join Zero Hour, or you can join another cause that inspires you to take action!

Building a Better, More Just World

The Tom's of Maine Incubator is designed to propel the next generation of BIPOC leaders innovating environmental solutions. The program provides funding, mentorship, amplification, and support to young changemakers, helping them Do Good. For Real.

Join Tom's of Maine in standing with Zanagee and learn more about transitioning to renewable energy sources on Zero Hour's website. You can also follow Zanagee on Instagram and X to stay up to date on his important work in the climate space.

Image Source: Zanagee Artis

The views and opinions expressed in any guest post featured on our site are those of the guest author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of Tom's of Maine.

Why It's Good

The Tom's of Maine Incubator amplifies the work of the youth climate movement to support solutions to our planet's problems.