To Believe or Not To Believe… That is the Question

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is a 16-year-old indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and a powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement. Photo by Donna Permell, CEO | Prime Phocus

HI! It’s Olivia from OMG here. Let me start off by wishing everyone a Happy New Year and by saying thanks for relying on Nat Geo and the many guest bloggers for staying abreast of the latest news.

Well, it’s a new year, and all indications are that the environmental movement’s outlook will be challenging, to say the least.

As many of you know, the incoming administration of President Donald Trump has taken a hard stance against what scientists call “climate change” or “global warming.” Some are quick to argue that these terms are merely made up and that there is no immediate reason to be concerned. Now, I am not a scientist, nor a denier, I am merely a 14-year-old trying to do what I can to ensure the that my generation is doing everything possible to protect and preserve the environment for myself and future generations.

I do not understand why people insist on fighting over terminology rather than looking at the situation in a more practical view. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, I think it is safe to say that we should all be focusing on one thing, and that is 350ppm. What is 350ppm? Well, that refers to the amount of carbon in our atmosphere in parts per million (ppm).

Experts around the world agree that if carbon levels exceed 350ppm, it will have a bad effect on our environment. Unfortunately, we are already over 400ppm and climbing. Some scientists warn we are almost at the point of no return. So rather than argue whether our current situation is man-made or a natural cycle the planet goes through, shouldn’t we all be focusing on how we can lower the ppm?

Anyway, since I am not an expert, I sought out advice. Recently I caught up with Xiuhtezcatl (‘Shoe-TEZ-caht’) Martinez, a 16-year-old indigenous climate activist, hip-hop artist, and a powerful voice on the front lines of a global youth-led environmental movement. From the age of six, Xiuhtezcatl has been speaking around the world—from the Rio+20 summit in Rio de Janeiro, to addressing the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York. He is the Youth Director of Earth Guardians, an organization of young activists, artists and musicians from across the globe stepping up as leaders and working together to create positive change in their communities to address climate change and other important issues that will define our future.

Photo by Donna Permell, CEO | Prime Phocus

Xiuhtezcatl is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against President Barack Obama and his administration for their perceived failure to protect the atmosphere. He has worked locally to get pesticides out of parks, contain coal ash, and establish moratoriums on fracking in his home state of Colorado. The Captain Planet Foundation recently honored Xiuhtezcatl as the Young Superhero of the Earth and I took the opportunity to interview him.

If you had one thing to say to the future president, what would you say? 

It’s really interesting when I get asked this question because our future president is in denial of climate change, so having a conversation about climate solutions is a really difficult conversation … I would say to Mr. Trump that we don’t have time to debate about the politics of this issue or to question its reality. The problem is so serious and imminent that we have to take action immediately. I would like to have a conversation with Mr. Trump to look at the economic benefits of renewable energy infrastructure, because I know that he’s [concerned about creating] jobs … and making “America Great Again.” I think it’s really necessary conversation to have, so we can grow mentally and economically while at the same time transitioning away from fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are not the future of our energy infrastructure; fossil fuels are not the future.


Logo provided by Earth Guardians

What motivated you to start making a difference?

I was really motivated by a documentary that I saw called The 11th Hour. Also, just growing up, I had a really strong connection with nature and understanding my presence as a human being … I began to educate myself about saving the planet and … realized that this beautiful Earth that I was so in love with was falling apart; it was being destroyed. I just educated myself to help me get more involved and to empower myself with that.

Have you seen a change since suing the government?

It’s really exciting to see how … we can actually hold leaders accountable for their failure to act upon our behalf. [It] was a huge fact that two different judges sided with us and denied a motion to dismiss.

If you had one thing to say to the youth of the world, what would it be?

I think that my one message to young people everywhere is that the power that young people have to create change, whatever it is that you care about, you can use that passion to change the world. I think that there is a lot of power in the young people already to create change in the world … and because we live in a really difficult time right now, it’s people like just ordinary young people that I think are going to be in the front of the people.

Photo by

As you can see, Xiuhtezcatl has a unique perspective on the issue and in my opinion he is one of the rare people who is willing to fight for what he believes in, and I applaud him for that. You can learn more about Xiuhtezcatl and his team by visiting Earth Guardians, and I also recommend you visit the website from our friends at to learn more about the science behind the number.

Form your own conclusion and then ask yourself—does it make more sense to sit back and do nothing, or does it make more sense to act now and try to ensure future generations have a safe and healthy environment to grow up in?

We wish you a fantastic 2017 and remember Anybody can make a difference… if they can, you can too.” Stay tuned next month as I report on the most poached and trafficked mammal on the planet.

Olivia Ries is our National Geographic Society Youth Empowerment writer. Together with her brother, Carter, she hopes to inspire others to realize that “Anybody can make a difference… if they can, you can too.” Make sure to check out their TEDxYouth presentation along with their website at and also ‘LIKE’ their FaceBook page as well😉

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