ASU student uses climate change as a lens for his activism

Brian Mecinas, co-director of Arizona Youth Climate Strike, shares how he went from community to politics, environment to climate justice

Brian Mecinas, a freshman studying political science, straightened his posture behind the podium in the middle of the stage at Sen. Bernie Sanders' Phoenix rally on March 5.

He introduced himself, looked down at his speech and began with confidence. 

"Let's talk about what we can build together," Mecinas said over a cheering crowd. "A Green New Deal that will invest in our future by creating millions of jobs.

"A Green New Deal that will acknowledge that there is no climate justice without racial justice, economic justice, without gender justice and without justice for our indigenous peoples."

As one of three co-directors of Arizona's chapter of the Youth Climate Strike, Mecinas ended his short speech, endorsing Sanders.

While Mecinas got political at the rally by endorsing Sanders and discussing the intersectionality of racial and economic injustice with climate change — which he thinks should be addressed holistically with state and federal laws — he didn't start his activism in politics. 

"We are in the fight for climate justice because we care about people, and we care about our communities," said Claire Nelson, another co-director at Arizona Youth Climate Strike and a senior at ASU Preparatory Academy.

Each member of the advocacy group has a story to share, because to them, climate change is personal.

"Climate action means fighting for ourselves, our neighbors and our communities," said Sahara Sajjadi, one of Mecinas' close friends, fellow climate activists and ASU freshman studying global studies. "It's unfortunate that this fight depends primarily on students and young people when there are people in positions of power who can help but are negligent."

Mecinas said an October 2018 UN report, which found greenhouse emissions were increasing at a steady rate and, absent aggressive action, would not get better in the near future, showed him that the "climate crisis" is real and needs to be addressed immediately.

"Once I started reading, I really couldn't stop," Mecinas said, calling the report's findings "frightening," "shocking" and "blunt."

Mecinas and his peers in high school at the time were frustrated and angry with the lack of government action to address the report and its timestamp of 11 years. They began doing everything they could by spearheading recycling initiatives, compost piles and trash clean-ups.

While he's a leader in Arizona, Mecinas said that he's elated to be one in a group of young people fighting for the same thing.

"Brian has such an internal drive," Sajjadi said, explaining that Mecinas lifts up each member of the organization while remaining cool, calm and collected when planning large-scale events. 

"He's very dedicated and at his young age, he's accomplished so much and stays humble about it," she said. 

While there's a lot to do in order to maintain the group's busy calendar of events, other members of the organization are excited by Mecinas' drive and passion.

"Brian constantly inspires me and pushes me to be a better organizer," Nelson said. "There is a lot going on in our organization at one time, and he helps me manage it all."

Nelson and Sajjadi complimented Mecinas' intelligence, saying that when he worked closely with elected officials, the real mission of their advocacy was born.

"I went into this rabbit hole where my eyes were sort of forced open," Mecinas said, remembering just how easy it was to connect climate change with other issues his community was facing: lack of clean water availability, greenhouse gases and air pollution. 

"Over time, my smaller interest in the environment turned into more of a passion for addressing climate justice," Mecinas said aligning racial discrimination and disproportionate access to health care to climate change. 

Mecinas and his friends participated in a climate strike on March 15, 2019 — one of the first internationally coordinated days for climate protest. 

Following the rally with a new name, Arizona Youth Climate Strike, and a dedicated group of supporters, Mecinas organized a town hall with members of the Arizona Legislature, created a petition to make sure addressing climate change was made a priority and held an educational summit for students in middle and high schools as well as colleges around the valley.

Once he got to college, Mecinas was able to organize a larger climate strike with over 1,500 people in attendance. 

READ MORE: Arizona students take part in global climate strike

At each event, Mecinas has repeated his story. He started small in his community thinking about the environment, but the shift to thinking about how policy can uplift climate justice was inevitable. 

"He's always in the room, listening to everyone, taking notes and implementing thoughtful plans that take every community and every individual into account," Sajjadi said.

Mecinas hopes that students at ASU who may not be privy to the ins and outs of climate change consider "checking their privilege" because it "can help others," Mecinas said. 

Reach the reporter at and follow @piperjhansen on Twitter. 

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