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MICA student Nadia Nazar is one of the faces of the youth climate movement

Young environmental activist leader of "Zero Hour" Nadia Nazar, 17 from Baltimore, is seen during a media event together with young environmental activists and Greta Thunberg (unseen)on Capitol Hill on Sept. 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP)
Young environmental activist leader of "Zero Hour" Nadia Nazar, 17 from Baltimore, is seen during a media event together with young environmental activists and Greta Thunberg (unseen)on Capitol Hill on Sept. 17, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Eric BARADAT / AFP) (ERIC BARADAT/Getty)

Born and raised in Baltimore County, 19-year-old artist and climate activist Nadia Nazar is making waves.

Currently a rising sophomore at Maryland Institute College of Art, Nazar has always been inspired by art and began drawing at a young age. “I feel like I’ve been an artist my whole life,” Nazar said. “In middle school I started taking it more seriously and considering myself as an artist wholeheartedly.”

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Also in middle school, Nazar learned about climate change in an environmental science class. She was particularly concerned about its impact on endangered species.

“It was really devastating because [animals] are not doing anything to cause the problem but they’re the ones being affected first,” Nazar said, referring to issues like deforestation and oil spills that negatively affect animal habitats.

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Nazar was inspired at the age of 14 by Jamie Margolin, a high school student involved in climate change activism targeted towards young people. Soon after reaching out to Margolin on Instagram, Nazar, Margolin, and a few other teenage activists created Zero Hour, the organization behind the 2018 Youth Climate Summit.

The three-day summit included over 100 youth who delivered the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge to elected officials, asking them not to accept donations from oil, gas and coal executives and lobbyists. The gathering ended with a march on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Elsewhere, hundreds of young people participated at sister marches in 25 other cities, including San Francisco, Atlanta and New York. In addition to being a co-founder, Nazar is co-executive director and art director of Zero Hour.

“I was a very goal-oriented person and I really wanted to start this youth march,” said Margolin. “When Nadia was basically the only person reaching out to me back then, consistently coming up with ideas and being proactive, I was very excited to work with her. She shared the vision that I had and so sharing everything we built together was incredible.”

The journey to the march was not easy for Nazar and her team. They spent a year organizing in anticipation for July 2018 and were faced with burnout and self doubt along the way.

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“It took a toll on my mental health,” said Nazar. “I only really started taking care of my mental health when COVID started because I finally had time to. Learning how to get enough sleep every day made a difference. For a long time, none of us really prioritized rest. You would go to school, come home and do homework and then stay up all night working after that. It was not healthy for any of us. It was so draining and made the work so much harder.”

Youth Climate March co-organizer Nadia Nazar, testifies before the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on climate change, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wed. Feb. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Youth Climate March co-organizer Nadia Nazar, testifies before the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on climate change, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wed. Feb. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen) (Cliff Owen/AP)

Since the Youth Climate Summit in 2018, 44 Zero Hour chapters have opened across the country and internationally in places like Los Angeles, India and Portugal. Nazar and Margolin have testified in front of Congress on separate occasions. Nazar spoke at the House Natural Resources Committee hearing on climate change in February 2019 about the impact of climate change in developing countries and low-income communities in the United States. In September of that year, Margolin spoke at another hearing in the House alongside well-known youth climate activist Greta Thunberg about growing up under the threat of climate change.

“People say that activism is selfish and in a lot of ways that’s true,” said Nazar. “We’re so passionate about this because it affects us. People talk about the years 2040 and 2050 like they’re far away, but that will be the middle of our lives for Gen Z. I can’t imagine being my parents’ age and having to worry about natural disasters outside or whether the air is safe to breathe or if my water is safe. This has already become an issue for so many people.”

“Anyone can understand [art] especially if you don’t have words to communicate,” Nazar said. “I think it’s so important that we also talk about the emotional aspect of climate change. Rather than just numbers and statistics, let’s tell the stories of how people are being affected — the anger, the anxiousness, the grief. Art has been a really good tool for that.”

This article is part of our Newsmaker series that profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at khigh@baltsun.com.

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