While many young people are concerned about our environment, 14-year-old Kallan Benson has taken her passion for saving the planet from climate change and turned it into a worldwide movement.
“We’re a very scientifically aware family,” said the Crownsville teen who is home-schooled by her mother, Kim. “But it was the first People’s Climate March in New York City I went to when I was 9 years old that started it all.”
Philip Favero, co-founder of the Climate Stewards of Greater Annapolis, is impressed with Kallan’s talents.
“Kallan has a scientist’s understanding of the interdependence between humans and nature, an artist’s talent for expressing emotions about environmental challenges of our times and a community organizer’s determination to change the world for the better,” Favero said.
Kallan canvassed and lobbied for the fracking ban in Maryland. After the 2016 election, she set out to do more.
Kallan was inspired to activism by monarch butterflies. It takes five generations of butterflies to migrate the 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada, and only the fifth butterfly born reaches the final destination, she said.
“That’s how I look at it now,” Kallan said. “What will the world be like for the fifth generation of children?”
In April 2017, Kallan attended the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C., and brought a parachute depicting a monarch butterfly and 1,600 signatures of youth obtained by traveling to schools and informing children of climate change.
“I made the first parachute because it worked well to carry (in the march), but it also represents how I hope we have a safe landing from climate change and I want us to bounce back up,” she said.
It was at the 2017 event she met Ari Rubenstein, son of the Mother Earth Project co-founder, Barton Rubenstein.
It was this chance meeting and the help of the MEP that encouraged Kallan to start Parachutes for the Planet, an initiative to expand her parachute theme worldwide.
“My goal is to bring youth voices out,” she said. “You don’t see many youth at rallies.”
With only a few months planning, Kallan and Rubenstein were able to create the Parachutes for the Planet inaugural exhibition in Washington’s Waterfront Park.
Two hundred parachutes depicting art directed at saving the earth and made exclusively by youth from six continents, 30 countries and 29 states were displayed in the exhibition.
“I did not imagine it would get this far,” Kallan said. “It’s not ‘my’ project; it’s many people’s.”
Few 14-year-olds have such well-formed ideas about how they think the world should work, said Rich Barclay of the National Museum of Natural History.
“Even fewer have taken those ideas and created a worldwide movement,” he said.
Kallan said she hopes Parachutes for the Planet gets bigger and expands to global reach.
“We can view and learn (from the parachutes) without a debate,” she said.
She has also become a member of Zero Hour, a youth-led climate change organization. The organization is comprised of high school students, and Kallan is a member of the advocacy team lobbying and speaking to senators about climate change.
Her actions have gotten her invited to this past September’s Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco representing Zero Hour. Parachutes for the Planet won her the Promise for the Planet Youth Award from the National Aquarium and garnered an invitation to the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Toronto where she will be a speaker on climate change and youth activism.
“She is an inclusive leader and fantastic collaborator,” said Megan Fink of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “Her dedication to calling for comprehensive action on climate change is astounding, and she does so through lifting up the voices of her peers.”
“My goal is to raise youth voices on climate change,” Kallan said. “Kids can do incredible things together because it’s our future. I would also like to have concrete action taken on climate change. We need to move away from fossil fuels.
“Keep climate change in the back of your mind. Such as in the grocery store not buying anything with a great deal of plastic packaging and going to local farmers markets so you’re not buying food shipped half way across the world.”
While Kallan is unsure of a future profession, she plans to maintain her advocacy.
“She is an unstoppable force and wants to take everyone with her to a sustainable future,” Fink said.