Penelope Lea is a 17-year-old Norwegian climate activist who became the second-youngest ambassador for UNICEF at the age of 15 in 2020.
She is passionate about climate action and using her voice to advocate for better solutions for the environment. Read her blog for World Children's Day and discover other young leaders advocating for children's rights here.
"When I was 8 years old, something happened in my life that made me feel helpless. I wanted to have an impact on decisions regarding my own life but didn’t feel I did. I needed to be heard but didn’t feel I was.
So, I spoke up. The loudest I ever had.
At that time I didn’t feel I had the courage that I needed. Now I know I did. I just didn’t have any extra courage. I used all I had. I wasn’t heard and taken seriously by everyone, but I was heard and respected by enough people to get some influence.
This experience taught me that I could transform my fear, my anger and my love, into my own driving force.
It was at this point I read about the climate and ecological crisis for the first time. And as I read, I understood how everything I love in life, everything I love about living, is threatened. I went through a range of emotions: disbelief, sorrow, anger and fear. And as I did, I recognized my driving force, the one I had felt before. What I love, I want to fight for. I took my newly found courage, my voice, and started working as a climate activist. I joined an organisation and began to try out every peaceful way I could think of to contribute.
It’s been eight years now.
To me, activism is about knowing what happens in society also happens to me. That other people’s lives and the lives of those I do not know and may never meet, are part of my life. Solidarity is the only solution. We can’t save ourselves in this crisis without building the same safety for everyone else. I now know that the fight for climate justice is a fight for children’s and human’s rights, for equality, solidarity, peace and dignity. It is all connected. We are connected.
I wish I could say that it is easy being a climate activist. But it is not. You get used to losing. For every step forward we experience too much time passing due to lack of political will, legal systems that often fail us
and a public conversation that does not always feel safe to contribute to. I miss leaders that are honest about the situation we are in and the changes we need to see. Leaders show their commitment to democracy by trusting the public to be able to understand, and by speaking in ways that allow them to do so.
Sometimes I have found it difficult to recognize and point out the hidden agendas and manipulation in conversations with politicians, decision-makers and media. I still do. Almost every counterargument I have encountered is based on the necessity of economic growth. It is most often raised by the ones that already have exploited and benefited from economic growth, supporting a system that cannot include others because it is far from sustainable. If the inner will to change when needed and work for a common future is absent, it is hard to see how we can break the barrier of the conversations and move forward. This scares me. I believe that once we fail to listen to each other or resist seeing life from a different point of view, we endanger our security and prevent peaceful development.
One of the challenges in my work is still to be heard, just as it was when I was eight. But this time I am not working solely for my own voice to be recognized. In the climate movement, we work to impact millions of voices, their lives and their futures.
I often wonder what does it take for us to change our ways? What kind of words, which kind of actions are needed, how many people have to stand together? What kind of articles do we have to write, slogans to come up with, art to make, speeches to hold, headlines to write, videos to make, books to write and conversations to carry out? We need all the stories, voices, sorrow, anger, joy, love, will to change. I now know that the way we use our voices matters. It may not always feel safe or easy, but your voice can help someone else to use theirs.
My work has taught me that I am not alone.
People fighting for climate action are still not being heard and taken seriously by everyone. Not even by enough people to make the changes we all need as fast as we all need them. But we are heard and respected by enough people to make a difference and to make my driving force grow stronger every day.
I have met people from most parts of the world. People with unimaginable courage, people driven by the same love that I am driven by. I know am connected to a worldwide community fighting for a common future built on solidarity, equality and sustainability.
I am a small but proud part of this network, and I am going to keep on contributing with everything I can. I refuse to adjust myself to what I believe no one should have to get used to."