With every passing day, the threat of climate change looms larger and Orange County (OC) has borne its effects. Fires in Silverado Canyon, a multi-year drought straining California, and substantial coastal flooding in Huntington Beach alone exemplify the nature of this crisis. Climate-driven disasters have devastated our County and the state, and the problem may only grow.

We are Community Development interns for the Office of Councilmember Agran in Irvine, and in our work, we have seen the City make tremendous strides. We have studied the effects of new climate action laws the City has adopted, analyzed the City’s Climate Change and Resiliency Strategy under development, and spoken with key stakeholders. Indeed, numerous groups — many led by young adults between 13-25 years old — in OC are working around the clock to help the world achieve a more-just and -sustainable future.

The climate crisis will require the substantial coordination of consumers, companies, and governments around the world, and OC and its youth are taking a lead. For instance, the youth-led climate action group Reform and Sustain OC are spearheading efforts to organize a large upcoming strike at Orange City Hall on March 25th, 2022 to demand more equity-focused change.

“You do have the power to make change,” said Jordyn Murray, co-founder of the grassroots group Reform & Sustain OC based in Irvine. By becoming involved in climate action as a young person, Ari Jong, her fellow co-founder says, “we have been able to tour Bolsa Chica Wetlands, clean up Bolsa Chica State Beach, and do other work to care for local ecosystems.”

Reform & Sustain, composed of high school, college and graduate students, is just one group of youth activists across Orange County that prioritizes youth education and action as a key to stemming climate change.

“I’m 20 and we’re already in a climate crisis. Wherever you look, no country [yet] has a plan that is adequate for mitigating the worst effects [of climate change],” said Johanna Speiser, a member of Fridays for Future’s Orange County branch.

Fridays for Future is a global movement inspired by Greta Thunberg’s 2018 strike and focuses on policy action to advocate for action by global leaders to protect our planet from the climate crisis. This group has been at the forefront of climate activism in OC, engaging and inspiring youth to participate in local climate strikes and engage with environmental justice. Despite many members being below voting age, the organization has proven that grassroots youth action can have a powerful influence on our democracy, especially at the local level.

“Since climate change is a global crisis, that means you can make a change everywhere. In your job, amongst your friends, you have an opportunity to create change almost everywhere,” said Speiser. “We were able to convince an Orange County Congressman to support a climate resolution because we protested and lobbied him through the power of dozens of members.”

Schools have also fostered climate activism in OC. Many high schools, like Irvine’s University High School, host environmental clubs where students can connect with other environmentalists and take small steps to incorporate sustainability practices and small acts of activism into their lives. University High’s Eco Club has engaged students in projects like weekly recycling on campus, as well as beach cleanups and a clean water fundraising project. Organizations like Eco Club have let OC youth, recognizing their impact, to lead the local climate movement.

OC’s youth climate movement has grown exponentially in recent years. However, as Speiser noted, “they are pretty spread out and not always connected.”

That is why our Community Development team through the Office of Councilmember Agran has also been planning climate-action initiatives and working on climate issues:

The Irvine Climate Coalition is pushing Irvine and the County to create a more liveable planet. We are currently planning an outdoor event to give thanks to our planet and turn Earth Day into an Earth Year. If you are interested in getting involved, either as a participant or as a partner organization, please sign up here to learn more.

Katherine Wu is a junior at University High School. She is passionate about health and environmental justice, and she is promoting positive change in Irvine through her internship with Councilmember Agran’s Community Development team. She is leading community networking and climate action for the team.  In her free time, she enjoys listening to and playing a variety of music, as well as thrift shopping around OC!

Pranav Moudgalya is a senior at University High School. He leads policy research for Councilmember Larry Agran’s Community Development intern team. In his free time, he enjoys watching TV shows (SUITS & Money Heist), taking walks around his neighborhood, and cooking (though mainly eating) vegan food. This fall, he will attend Harvard University to study the life sciences and public policy.

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