Skpster stories: Q&A with Sena Wazer
Meet a changemaker
Within our sk*p community there are some incredible accomplished environmental changemakers and one we are especially proud to introduce you to is 18-year-old environmental activist, policy changer, speaker and college senior—meet Sena Wazer.
We caught up with this superstar climate activist to find out what’s been shakin in her world since we last spoke around Earth Day 2021.
Were you always passionate about climate change before becoming an activist? Was there anything specific that inspired you to take it further and become involved in strikes and pursuing policy change?
I’ve been an environmental activist in some form for most of my life, but it was in 2019 when I really started to focus on climate change. This happened after I read about the 2018 report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which highlighted the following: it is critical that we limit global warming to under 1.5℃elcius, otherwise more irreversible damage to many ecosystems, species, and communities will occur. None of this is new; we had 12 years (now 8) to prevent the worst consequences of the climate crisis. For me the thing that stuck out most was the 12-year timeframe. It immediately made me think about how old my sister and I are, as well as the rest of our generation, and where we will be in 2030. For many of us, we will just be starting our adult lives. That made the climate crisis personal for me, and compelled me to take action specifically directed at stopping the climate crisis.
At sk*p, our mission is to inspire and support young changemakers. As a young person yourself, can you share how important it is for others to understand the issues affecting their environment and how they can help?
So important!!! I think perhaps the most important thing to understand, especially if you’re new to environmental activism, is that climate change and other environmental issues are very intersectional with other issues that communities face. If you’re also passionate about racial justice, economic justice, or basically any other social justice issue, it probably has overlap with environmental issues.
In addition to that, I would encourage young people (or really any people) who are interested in environmental work to consider how the environment impacts them and their communities. Especially with climate change accelerating, most communities feel some impacts—although communities of color and low income communities bear a very disproportionate burden of those impacts. By understanding how our communities are impacted by climate change, I believe it makes us more effective advocates who can fight for better from a place of love and compassion for the people around us, as well as the rest of the world, instead of thinking about climate change or environmental issues as this kind of far removed, abstract issue.
In terms of calls to action on environmental issues, I find that it can be helpful to connect with an organization or other community members who are also passionate about that same thing. Finding someone else to work with is helpful so that you have someone to learn with/from and can bounce ideas around. And of course, keep learning about environmental issues! There are so many resources out there and I encourage you to use them. From social media, and accounts like @queerbrownvegan and @intersectionalenvironmentalist, to news articles, such as this one in the Guardian explaining what environmental justice is, there is a wealth of information to draw from.
Photo credit: Dominique Jade DeMaria.
As a senior at the University of Connecticut, you have spent the past four years working on climate justice initiatives. Can you talk about some of those projects and the organizations you’ve aligned with on campus? What can likeminded students do at their own schools?
Honestly, most of my environmental work has occurred off campus, but in the past year especially I’ve been more involved with organizing climate action at UConn. A recent project I was involved with was organizing the “Rally for a Peaceful Planet” which happened last October. There were three main goals for this event: one, to abolish the 1033 military program; two, remove the refugee cap; and three, declare racism a public health crisis at UConn. While these demands might not seem directly tied to climate change, they are each linked due to the overlap between different social justice issues.
One of the things I love most about UConn is how devoted many of the students are to activism, and bringing about a positive change in the world. Some of the organizations I’ve worked with include UConn Collaborative Organizing, the Undergraduate Student Government, Fridays for Future UConn, the Human Rights Symposium and more.
For students interested in getting involved with activism at their school, look for groups who share similar interests like environmental or social justice work—if it doesn’t feel right then try out a different one! Different groups work for different people. If there are no existing groups, don’t be afraid to start your own! If it’s something you're passionate about, it’s likely that there are other students who share your passion.
Both on and off campus, you are an advocate for change. What are some projects you have worked on off-campus and in your community?
There are so many but here is the short answer. From about 12-14 years old, I was involved with an initiative to ban plastic bags in my hometown. Then, in 2019, when I turned 15, I became the main organizer for two major youth climate strikes that happened at the CT Capitol in Hartford. More recently, I’ve been focusing on strengthening the organization that I run, called Sunrise CT, and ensuring that we are both accessible and engaging with students, as well as effective at influencing policy in CT. Currently, I am preparing for the upcoming CT state legislative session, during which Sunrise CT will be pushing for immediate and drastic climate action, as well as planning an Earth Day climate strike.
Photo credit: Brandon Hermoza Ricci.
Given all your many achievements thus far, what has been the most memorable experience since you started your activism?
I would say my most memorable experiences are probably the 2019 climate strikes, because they really showed me the power of organizing and how many students are committed to seeing climate action.
What do you see as the biggest issue facing the climate crisis now?
Politicians who don’t understand the urgency of climate change. While the climate crisis continues to accelerate and communities feel more and more impacts, some politicians continue to drag their feet and say that we are asking for too much, and climate action is too complicated, too costly, or just plain not needed. That always makes me so frustrated because so many people are already feeling the effects of climate change, and we really need action now to prevent the worst consequences of the climate crisis from occurring.
Where do you see yourself in five years—what do you hope to be doing?
Honestly, I’m not sure. Climate action work can be really exhausting because change, especially political change, happens slowly despite the urgency. So I’m currently trying to figure out how to fight for that change while also not getting burned out. With that said, I will likely continue to work on climate policy since, as frustrating as it can be, I do believe that public policy is a good way to make change happen.
Photo credit: Nick Barta.
Are you working on any future projects that you would like to share with us?
I would like to encourage everyone to turn out for the Earth Day climate strike that Sunrise CT is organizing! We’re at the very beginning stages of organizing it, but I think it’s going to be a really great event and am excited to see it come together. You can follow Sunrise CT on social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter) for more information; or, sign up here to get more information as the event approaches.
As a true Gen Z changemaker, walk us through your morning routine; what gets you ready for the day?
Since the new year, I’ve been trying to start my day off by writing three things that I’m grateful for in my life. I think starting the day off with a positive mindset can be helpful. From there, I usually go on my phone and check social media, and then make myself a nice breakfast, usually consisting of coffee or tea and a slice of bread. Then I’m ready to go!