“We have to keep on fighting and do more and more because our voices are being heard now. We have to make sure that they continue to be heard.” This is what Calvin Yang ’21 said after being on the frontlines of the September 2019 Global Climate Strike alongside his classmate Alessandro Dal Bon ’21.
As student Core Committee members of Fridays for Future NYC, they helped to organize and promote the event in which 315,000 people followed behind them — literally and figuratively — in the largest of all the global strikes, which collectively totaled eight million participants.
As we shared last year, the duo was dedicated to taking leadership roles, using their voices — speaking to politicians and numerous media outlets — and engaging others in Generation Z to advocate for change. This included rallying in front of the UN, attending CNN’s Presidential Town Hall about the climate crisis during the lead-up to the election, and founding Fridays for Future at Dwight.
Much has happened in more than a year, and we checked in with Calvin and Alessandro to hear what paths they have since carved both individually and jointly — and where they want to go in the future.
Best-laid Plans … A Quick Pivot
Following the Climate Strike, Alessandro and Calvin were gearing up for the next mass mobilization planned for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day when COVID-19 intervened. In very short order, they shifted gears to work with the national Climate Strike Coalition on a three-day live stream of Earth Day events, which drew nearly five million people worldwide. In conjunction, Alessandro co-wrote a compelling editorial, “Why You Should Care About Earth Day Amid the Coronavirus Pandemic,” published in Teen Vogue.
Calvin and Alessandro were then tapped to help with youth outreach around climate efforts by Mike Bloomberg, when he put his hat into the Presidential ring; they also co-founded Students for Bloomberg in support of his campaign.
New and Different Directions
Since then, Calvin, who was born in Toronto and has always been passionate about Canadian politics, began exploring future political career options. After working with the Green Party during the 2019 Canadian elections, he launched the Canadian Youth Alliance for Climate Action (CYACA), which is the country’s first youth climate lobbying and public policy firm. Calvin turned to Alessandro to join as the Chair of the Foreign Advisor Board and a Board member. CYACA caught the attention of Thrive Global and interviewed Calvin for its series “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Began Leading My Company.”
Hoping to better effect change through non-partisan politics, Calvin has moved away from the kind of activism that brought him and Alessandro to the head of the New York Climate Strike. He is focusing on gaining practical experience by meeting with politicians and Parliament officials from every party to discuss their environmental platforms and lobbying for amendments to the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act. “Having Canadians share their voice is vital to maintaining and strengthening the sacrosanct nature of our democracy,” he asserts. Under Calvin’s leadership, CYACA now has an in-house legislative and legal team, will soon have an office in Ottawa, and will be conducting Canada’s first Gen Z environmental election poll before the next federal election.
Here in New York, Calvin has also become the Chief Climate Advisor for a Mayoral candidate, penning climate policies for the campaign. As a virtual student during his senior year, he is challenged to balance this work with a rigorous academic course load of four HL Diploma classes, and cites good time-management skills as key, plus the IB curriculum for pushing him to become a risk-taker.
Looking ahead to attending college in the U.S. and law school in Canada, Calvin has more than put his toe in the political water and is well on his way to entering the Canadian political arena in the future.
While sharing strategic insights with CYACA, Alessandro, who was born in Italy, devoted his time to helping elect the Biden-Harris ticket by phone banking and pursuing independent projects as a hybrid student. An exciting project is being featured as one of the activists in a new children's book, Climate Action: What Happened and What We Can Do, by Seymour Simon, who The New York Times called “the dean of the [children’s science] field.”
“This year, the environmental movement has been reshaped by both the pandemic and the new Administration and is still taking form,” Alessandro explains. “There is difficulty in mobilizing with hundreds of thousands of people now and all social movements need to find the most effective way to keep up their momentum. Before the election, protesting was necessary because no one was listening. Now we are in a better place and I hope that the youth climate movement comes together again and organizes to keep pressure on leaders around the world to fulfill their promises. In the commitment + action equation, action is the hardest part,” he says.
Alessandro plans to study engineering in college, which he sees as a continuation of his journey advocating for solutions to the climate crisis by helping to make those solutions possible through technology, especially in regards to carbon capture and hydrogen power. “There is so much new technology becoming available all the time — and so much that we can do with it,” Alessandro says. Additionally, he doesn’t plan to stray away from activism and looks forward to joining efforts at the college level, for which he’s ideally prepared to lead. “My goal from the beginning has been to bring as many people as possible together to contribute to solving our climate crisis,” Alessandro shares. We know that he will definitely do that in life well beyond Dwight!