How Is This 10-Year-Old Fighting Climate Change? First, by Ditching School.

She started a litter-picking campaign, sharing photos and videos on social media through Lilly’s Plastic Pickup. She’s since been invited to international environment conferences, and is now a youth ambassador for the Plastic Pollution Coalition, an anti-plastic alliance based in California, and HOW Global, a global development NGO.

“I’ve never stopped picking up plastic,” she says. “Last year we worked out it was 25,000 pieces.”

It may seem a lot for one 10-year-old to take on, but she’s not so different from other children. Lilly has an encyclopedic knowledge of dinosaurs, a love of drawing and Studio Ghibli. And it’s her wide-eyed, youthful energy that gives her this passion and ability to see things in black and white. She picks up plastic trash from the ground. She avoids single-use plastics. She sits outside her town hall holding placards. Because, if she doesn’t do it, who will?

Lilly has been striking since Sept. 21. With official permission, she strikes for an hour on Fridays, before heading back to school. She’s always accompanied by her mom, Eleanor Platt, a former teacher. Over time, she’s had storytellers, journalists, activists and even the town mayor sit with her in the civic center.

The mayor “said he wanted to show appreciation of what she’d been doing for the climate,” says Eleanor Platt. “He said Lilly was really a teacher, and they are the pupils.” 

Throughout her campaign, Lilly has watched the youth climate movement spread across the world. Tens of thousands of teenagers and children have taken to the streets in Australia, Belgium and the UK to voice frustration about the older generation’s inaction on climate change.

Similarly, in the US, more and more young people are rising up to demand action. Kids from almost 30 states have signed up for a climate strike in the US next month, while Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) pushes for her Green New Deal, a sweeping climate plan for the US to decarbonize in just a decade. 

“It’s amazing that people are going this far to protect the environment and nature,” Lilly says.

But as her voice gets louder, she is exposed to more criticism. Lilly has attracted the attention of trolls and climate deniers through social media. They claim she’s been forced to do this by her mother, and denounce her protest as truancy.

Eleanor Platt supports Lilly, but says she is not driving her agenda. Lilly continues to do well at school, and after all, misses just one hour a week.

The online abuse has been overwhelming at times. Eleanor Platt says she has had to log Lilly out of social media accounts (her mum supervises the accounts and they use social media together), as the 10-year-old has received hateful messages and comments comparing the climate protestors with child soldiers who have been indoctrinated.

“As a parent you can support your child, but you really have to [police] this whole thing properly, to make sure they are safe,” her mom adds.

“Sometimes people write to me and say, you really need to let her be a child.”

Lilly interrupts her mom: “But this is what I want to do! I don’t want to look back on a few years and think, ‘Why didn’t I do anything?’ I don’t want to be the person to just sit back and watch the world become warmer and warmer.”

Lilly’s thick-rimmed glasses drop down her nose when she jumps up with excitement. “Let the children be what they want to be, and not what you want them to be,” she says. “Let them have this green heart and help the environment, instead of you trying to control them to go back to not caring for the climate. 

“Also, I do not want to play with dolls or Lego. This is what I want to do.”

Lilly will continue her Friday strike until the global climate protests on March 15, an international day of strikes led by students. More than 40 countries have already signed up, from Germany to Uganda, and at least 30 US states.

“Children can make a change,” Lilly says. “It’s not only grown-ups who can save the planet.”