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Q&A: Fast 5 With a Youth Climate Activist

A Conversation with Bertine Lakjohn ’23

By Sydney London ’23

Photography by Kim Fetrow of Kim Fetrow Photography ’96

Bertine Lakjohn ’23 is no stranger to climate change. Hailing from the Marshall Islands, where the effects of rising seas cannot be ignored, Lakjohn has been a climate activist well before arriving at Whitman. 

The Sociology-Environmental Studies major has been featured in publications, including Vogue, for her work and led initiatives to bring other climate youth activist voices to campus. We were able to sit down and ask Lakjohn five questions about these efforts and what hope she has for her generation moving forward. 


1. Who in your life inspired you to pursue climate action?

Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner. She had a poem that shook the world by focusing on small islands that are actually sinking due to the climate crisis. She made a point of instead of viewing us as vulnerable, people should see us as resilient … She’s definitely inspired me to take the untraditional road in life.”

2. Why should college students care about climate change?

“Elected officials tend to write off our concerns because they’ve been around for years and it’s never been a problem for them, but when they’re gone it’s going to be our problem. We are the generation that’s going to inherit the climate crisis, but we’re also the generation that can do something about it. That’s why we definitely should care.”

3. Where do you see the most change happening currently on campus?

“Whitman is making the effort to intersect academics more with the climate crisis, which I really appreciate. Relating the topic of climate action into classes, while also integrating our greater community within our own Whitman community, is where a lot of climate-related action is being taken. Next up would be getting a designated climate-action space to host consistently in.”

4. What things can college students do to promote climate activism on campus and in their communities?

“Take advantage of the fact that you’re a college student. Find internships. Speak to professors and others about environmental issues, because there are so many opportunities that they may point you toward. You don’t even have to be an Environmental Studies major to ask, you just have to be passionate and willing to give them your time. They’re not just going to teach you skills, they’re also going to give you perspective.”

5. How can people take action if they don’t know where to start?

“Everything that’s happening right now is related to the climate crisis. Think about where you’re from. Ask yourself, ‘What has changed since I was born and raised here?’ Climate change happens in every town, even in urban environments. It’s no longer a rural person’s problem or an island girl’s problem. It’s everybody’s problem.” 

Published on May 16, 2023
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