Nadia Nazar, 16, didn’t hold back in her testimony to Congress February 6, 2019.
Photo: AP

Nadia Nazar, 16, spent the last three weeks preparing her testimony for the first climate change hearing in years. As the co-founder of a youth-led climate movement, Zero Hour, Nazar was the first panelist to speak Wednesday during the congressional session’s second half. She talked about deadly floods in India, from where her parents emigrated, and epic floods in Maryland, where she lives.

When the time came for members of the House Committee on Natural Resources to ask questions, Nazar was ready. “I was anticipating every time a member started talking … would they would ask me, would they ask me not,” Nazar told Earther. However, Nazar spent the rest of the hearing in silence. No one asked her a single question. The only Congress member to even address her was Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), who nearly broke into tears when she thanked Nazar for attending the hearing and apologized for the world her generation is inheriting.

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“I almost want to apologize to you and the youth of this world who go to bed every night worrying about what will happen to our communities because of climate change,” Haaland said to Nazar during the hearing. “And I just want to recognize your presence here means a great deal to me and to many of us.”

And there were any number of topics Nazar could have offered an opinion on, from the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks to how a clean energy future would impact communities of color. As a young woman of color, Nazar is more likely to live the consequences of the choices being made today than anyone else who was in that room.But while Nazar’s presence might have meant a lot of Haaland—and while she appreciated the invite and opportunity to attend the hearing—she was disappointed to have not been engaged further. After all, she missed school, her AP computer science class, and an SAT prep course to attend!

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Nazar doesn’t think her silence was a coincidence; she believes her age, race, and gender had everything to do with why the committee ignored her. The way she sees it, these reps still view youth as “inexperienced” and “immature,” she said. That’s despite the fact that Nazar, and countless other youth, are devoting their lives to fixing this mess through direct action, calling shit out, and taking their governments to court.

“They don’t want to hear what we have to say, and they’re not really open to hearing what we have to say,” Nazar said. “They asked everyone else questions before they asked the two women of color questions.”

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This was a point that panelist Elizabeth Yeampierre, the executive director of Brooklyn-based climate justice organization UPROSE, raised during the session, despite breaking protocol in doing so.

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Nazar was grateful to raise issues around equity and justice for those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, but she’s not naive. She realizes that progressive policies don’t always sit well with the Democratic establishment. That doesn’t mean she’ll quit.

Zero Hour Movement is just getting started. It’s helping put together a massive school strike next month. If elected officials don’t want to hear Nazar and the rest of her young peers on the Hill, perhaps they’ll listen on the streets.

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Earther reached out to the committee for comment and will update if we hear back.

Update 2/12: After further consideration of her experience at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing, Nadia Nazar sent us the following statement:

I am grateful that I was given the platform to represent the youth in this historic hearing about climate change. Yes, I was disappointed that I wasn’t asked any questions. But it was unfair of me to assume the reason why. I did not mean to accuse the elected officials. I appreciate Chairmen Grijalva and the House Natural Resources Committee for making sure a young person was represented, because the youth will be the most affected by this crisis. The elected officials were open to listening to hear what I had to say, that is why they invited me to testify. I would like to thank the entire committee for having me there and giving me the opportunity to testify.

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