We spoke with sixteen-year-old activist Genesis Butler about the inextricable link between animal rights and the climate crisis.
At the age of six, Genesis Butler decided to become vegan.
It was a move unexpected by her parents, who were raising her in a home that combines Black, Mexican, and Indigenous heritage and in which meat-based meals have been woven into the culture for millennia.
But to Genesis, who spent her free time visiting, volunteering, and donating to sanctuaries that had rescued animals from testing laboratories and veterinary farms, it seemed like an obvious move to protect them from any kind of harm.
It wasn’t long before Genesis was firmly solidified as an animal rights activist. Her foundation Genesis for Animals was launched to raise money for underfunded shelters, where she frequently witnessed workers put the needs of the animals before their own.
Only four years later, ten-year-old Genesis became the youngest person to deliver a TED Talk.
At the event, she highlighted the link between the animal agriculture industry and the climate crisis. It was a topic that, at the time, Genesis had rarely heard discussed in her community.
‘As I researched about justice for animals, I realised how much it intersects with other issues. I learned how the foods we eat are harming the planet and decided to shift my focus from solely animal rights to include protecting the environment.’
While prepping to deliver the TED talk, Genesis found herself surprised by what she read. For example, the fact that animal agriculture is now responsible for more annual methane gas emissions than the coal industry.
She continues, ‘Eighty percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cut down to make space for farming. That shocks a lot of people because we usually only think of factory farms. But you have to remember that animals, especially cows, require a lot of space to graze.’
The TED event brought needed exposure to the valuable work Genesis was doing through her foundation. First held in front of a live studio audience, the talk was later posted online and now plays inside homes, classrooms, and lecture halls around the world.
‘I would get messages from people saying they had switched to a plant-based diet after watching my talk. Many of them said they had never heard these facts before.’
It also enabled her to connect with individuals who share the goal of protecting the environment by way of safeguarding animals.
‘I always say: there’s a reason that factory farms don’t have glass walls. The animals are extremely smart and before they’re killed for food they know what’s going to happen to them.’
Genesis says campaigning for animal rights activism goes hand in hand with environmentalism and human rights. She points out that BIPOC communities are often unfairly and disproportionately forced to deal with the consequences of the industry’s expansion.
‘People of colour are being forced to leave their land to make room for farming. Those living near factory farms can’t open up their windows because faeces is sprayed into their yards. They’re also developing asthma and various cancers due to the poor air quality in the area.’
It’s true that the impacts of the animal agriculture industry on human life are widely ignored because most people believe they aren’t affected by it. However, Genesis reminds us that we’re already witnessing effects such as extreme weather events and the loss of natural landscapes.
‘Any activity that drives the climate crisis is going to impact us all,’ she says.
While continuing to support animal sanctuaries through her foundation, Genesis has focused on building a global community of planet-conscious individuals through her second platform, Youth Climate Save.
Developed and launched during the pandemic, it has opened up a digital space for young people to share and discuss information related to animal agriculture, plant-based living, and protecting our planet.
Youth Climate Save not only offers educational resources for those looking to understand how these issues are interconnected, but has become a powerhouse for activists looking to organise positive action, support one another, and celebrate their success stories.
‘Being part of a community has always helped me. Seeing each other’s accomplishments and reaching out and having someone to talk to – even if it’s not about our activism – they’re always there to talk.’
Knowing all too well how the narrative around the climate crisis can easily be dominated by doom-like narratives, Genesis makes a conscious effort to ensure the information shared on Youth Climate Save’s platform strikes an equal balance.
‘It’s important not to post too much negative information that leaves people feeling helpless. There’s already a lot of that online. On Youth Climate Save, we post calls to action, events, and information or small tips to help people feel inspired to get started.’
For those looking to create positive lifestyle changes, keeping an open mind and becoming more thoughtful about our everyday actions is the most important step, Genesis says.
‘A lot of people think of going plant-based as an all-or-nothing act. But you can start by making small changes, like switching out your milk or butter for plant-based options. Then you start trying out plant-based meats. Soon you realise it’s easier than you thought.’
Putting too much pressure on becoming strictly plant-based is a common mistake that Genesis says discourages many people from trying in the first place.
‘It’s important to try new things and remember that it’s okay if you don’t like it. People will try one meat alternative that doesn’t taste the best and think, “Oh no, I can’t do this, this is terrible.” But that can happen when you eat other foods too. Keep trying new things and you will find something you like.’
For anyone needing a starting point, Genesis recommends the organisation Support and Feed, which encourages people to embark on a journey of eating one plant-based meal per day, for 30 days.
‘Their approach is amazing because it helps people not think of being plant-based as difficult. It’s just one plant-based meal per day, one small but impactful change.’
When veganism was first growing in popularity, many believed it was a practice for ‘earthy hippies’ or privileged groups. Though Genesis believes financial privilege has been a barrier to the accessibility of plant-based foods, it is slowly becoming a thing of the past.
‘The more consumers show interest and demand for plant-based foods, the more they will appear on our shelves at a lower cost and become available to everyone. Actually, the whole narrative around veganism is changing because so many people of colour have switched to plant-based lifestyles.’
Now sixteen years old, Genesis acknowledges that she won’t be able to cast a political vote for another two years. Still, she doesn’t take the power of her own actions lightly.
‘Of course, I can’t vote yet. But I know that I can vote with my money.’
By this, she means supporting vegan food companies by buying their products and recommending her favourite items on her personal social media accounts, as well as on Youth Climate Save.
By sharing vegan recipes for Indigenous or Mexican dishes, she hopes to show visitors to the digital community that they don’t have to abandon their rich culture in the process of going plant-based.
She has even gotten her parents on board with eating vegan dishes more regularly – something that they didn’t believe they could do at first.
‘My mom is Mexican and meat-based dishes were my dad’s favourite. It was something they didn’t think they could live without, but I’ve found so many plant-based recipes for our culture’s traditional foods.’
‘Now we eat plant-based versions of tamales at Christmas!’ she says with a smile.
On a wider scale, Genesis is also working with policymakers to make plant-based options more widely accessible within her community.
‘My little sister had broken her arm and had nothing to eat while in the hospital. That inspired me to speak to lawmakers to ensure that plant-based foods are available in all hospitals, prisons, and nursing homes. We also worked on cruelty-free cosmetics acts in California.’
As any activist will tell you, not every campaign is successful, but staying persistent and not getting discouraged is part of Genesis’ modus operandi.
‘We’re still hopeful in implementing other laws and social compassionate legislation through Youth Climate Save,’ she says.
Though her activism has made some serious waves on social media and legal policy, in Genesis’ eyes, activism isn’t exclusively defined by these huge actions.
‘People think you have to attend protests or strikes to be an activist, but I believe any steps taken to educate somebody about a topic is a form of activism.
Whether that’s testing out and sharing vegan recipes on social media or talking to friends and family about the facts,’ she says. ‘It all counts.’
Genesis knows that young people are the driving force of change. The idea that the voices of youth will not be taken seriously by older generations, she says, is a huge misconception.
‘I didn’t know if people would listen when I first became an activist because I was just six years old. But I realized that adults do want to hear what you have to say. People in general do.’
There is no right age to become an activist, Genesis says. ‘You don’t have to wait until you’re older to start doing this work or for people to listen. You can reach out to other activists and ask how to get involved anytime!’
For people looking to support young BIPOC activists, she suggests listening with intention, uplifting their cause, and allowing them to feel seen. Consistently including young BIPOC activists at the forefront of the conversation eliminates the issue of tokenism.
‘I love how once [young people] learn that companies are profiting off our planet we don’t just say, “Oh okay, well, I’m not doing anything about it.” We talk about it and act on it. With the support of older generations, it puts pressure on companies to do better.’
Finally, Genesis simply encourages everyone to slow down, regularly practice self-care, and be more mindful in our increasingly fast-paced world.
‘I believe that’s where it really all starts. Being mindful of your choices can help you begin to live more sustainably, step by step. It’s time we stop thinking about the short-term and start thinking more about how small choices can create a better future, here on this planet.’
I’m Jessica (She/Her). Originally from Bermuda, I moved to London to get a Master’s degree in Media & Communications and now write for Thred to spread the word about positive social change, specifically ocean health and marine conservation. You can also find me dipping my toes into other subjects like pop culture, health, wellness, style, and beauty. Follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn and drop me some ideas/feedback via email.
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