When asked to think back on the origins of his passion for environmentalism, community and climate advocate Armon Alex remembers beach trips with his father, who instilled in him an action-minded and curious worldview. A curiosity for the world around him and the role we all play in protecting it would become forever embedded in Alex’s personal and professional endeavors. From his involvement in the first student-led research initiative on water quality at TAMU-CC to working on projects under the jurisdiction of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and contributing to federal agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Alex’s determination and dedication are unwavering … and he hasn’t even graduated from college yet.
KC: From acting as the Director of Youth Engagement for the Gulf Reach Institute to being one of the youngest members of the Board of Directors for EarthEcho International, you’ve worked with a number of environmental groups. How has your vast experience shaped your advocacy and leadership work?
AA: In many leadership roles I’ve held, I’ve often been the youngest member in the room. My generation brings another perspective to these decision-making tables. My extensive experience with environmental nonprofits, leading and supporting conservation campaigns and collaborating with government entities has deeply influenced my perspective on addressing the climate crisis and the power of collective action.
This work has highlighted the significance of grassroots movements, community engagement and the potential for local partnerships to effect change. Collaborating with government entities has taught me the complexities of policy-making and the need for engagement both within and outside the system. These experiences have shaped my understanding that addressing the climate crisis necessitates a multi-faceted approach. It requires mobilizing communities, conducting strategic campaigns and collaborating with stakeholders to drive systemic change. By leveraging collective action, we can amplify our impact and create a more sustainable and resilient future.
KC: As the vice-chair of the Mayor’s Environmental Task Force, what do your responsibilities look like?
AA: For clarity, the Mayor’s Environmental Task Force is an ad hoc task force. It was designed to advise the Mayor’s office regarding green initiatives and ways to be proactive. The committee makes recommendations to promote safe, healthy, socio-economic and environmentally sustainable projects and programs. To date, we’ve pushed initiatives through the Mayor’s office around recycling, composting and one of my personal favorites, the recent CommuniTree-CC Initiative that plans to plant at least 400 trees in the next five years around Corpus Christi. In April, we launched this initiative through the support of council members Jim Klein and Sylvia Campos. Mayor Paulette Guajardo played a critical role in organizing our sponsors and leading the effort. Work like this may be small in some eyes, but they go a long way in shifting our community engagement and knowledge about the way we interact with our environment.
KC: In 2021, you co-founded the first Gulf of Mexico Youth Climate Summit. What sparked this idea and what do you believe to be its importance?
AA: The creation of the Gulf of Mexico Youth Climate Summit (GOMYCS) was sparked by personal experiences in my coastal community, witnessing environmental injustices and recognizing the need for youth empowerment. Growing up in South Texas, I saw the biodiversity and vibrant communities of the Gulf of Mexico, but also the disparities affecting marginalized groups. My colleague Maggie Peacock and I realized the lack of youth representation in traditional coalition spaces in the Gulf, prompting the idea for GOMYCS.
Our organization brings together young leaders to address intersectional environmental issues. By collaborating with other scientists, experts and policymakers, we bridge generations, fostering dialogue and effective solutions. GOMYCS empowers marginalized communities and amplifies youth voices in decision-making processes. It serves as a platform for advocacy, education and policy discussions, enabling young activists to drive positive change. By challenging the status quo, GOMYCS cultivates a diverse and inclusive movement, shaping a sustainable and just future for the Gulf of Mexico.
KC: What environmental-related accomplishment you’ve been part of achieving for the city are you most proud of?
AA: Our coastal city still has a long way to go. Through my work in national and international collaborations to address the world’s most pressing issues, my hope is to bring those efforts and knowledge back home. It’s my personal belief that there needs to be a combination of systemic, individual and corporate change in order for us all to reach a sustainable future. I’m honored to have been a contributor to some of the recycling and composting work led by the city, but I know this is just a start. Our tree initiative is just a start. We need to work on bold initiatives like emission reduction, creating more green spaces, educating the public on natural resources issues and embracing clean energy as a city operation.
KC: What keeps your passion for activism and organizing strong?
AA: My passion for activism and organizing as an environmental scientist and climate activist stems from several factors: the sense of purpose derived from the urgency of the climate crisis and the responsibility to protect the planet and future generations, the solid foundation provided by scientific evidence which underscores the importance of bridging the gap between science and society and the commitment to climate justice and the fight against environmental inequality fuels my dedication. The collective action and collaboration within our coastal community, as well as the hope and optimism derived from progress and success stories, serve as ongoing sources of inspiration. The engagement of young people in climate activism and the long-term vision of a sustainable future further reinforce my passion for driving positive change.
As a young black and brown advocate, I have had many barriers to overcome and faced plenty of discriminatory behaviors from folks that do not understand the struggle. But I persisted over the years, knowing that the power of my voice has been passed down from generation to generation as our existence is our resistance in the many faces of oppression.
KC: How can people take climate-related action if they don’t know where to start?
AA: First, educating oneself about climate change and its impacts is essential. This can be done through peer-reviewed scientific research, reading reliable sources and staying informed. Connecting with clean-funded environmental organizations provides guidance and support. Engaging with corporations and the fossil fuel industry is crucial; individuals can support sustainable businesses and encourage clean energy strategies.
They can also advocate for change by attending local government meetings, participating in shareholder workshops and urging companies to prioritize environmental commitments. Additionally, taking personal actions like reducing energy consumption, supporting renewable energy and practicing sustainable habits are impactful. By combining education, organizational engagement, corporate accountability, policy advocacy and personal actions, we can all make a meaningful contribution to combat the climate crisis and build a future in which we all are safe and healthy.
KC: Any future projects and/or initiatives you’d like to share?
AA: Over the course of this most recent winter break, a massive oil spill occurred. Unfortunately, our city was not prepared for a man-made environmental disaster like this. We live in a unique city in which industry is obviously present and ingrained. It would be responsible for us [as a city] to be aware and prepared for the risks associated with the increasing production/activities of nonrenewable energy. It would be irresponsible of us [as a city] to ignore the science and successful action plans of other cities in the U.S. that make preparations for disasters like this.
Man-made environmental disasters like oil spills, gas leaks and water pollution are inextricably linked with industry. With this in mind, both personally and through GOMYCS, we’ve been working closely with the City Manager’s office to collaborate and research potential city-wide environmental initiatives around our state that would aim to help support the health, safety and prosperity of our coastal community. Through these efforts, the City Manager’s office is proposing the creation of an Environmental Sustainability Staffing that would jumpstart these efforts and join the top seven cities in Texas as they aim to protect their residents, lower emissions and conserve their environment.
In addition to this work, we’ve been partnering with national and international groups to further the global initiative to protect 30% of the world’s ocean by the year 2030 (30×30) through Marine Protected Areas in order to combat the climate crisis and focus on Ocean-Based Climate Solutions. We were successful in having young changemakers participate in the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) working alongside our partners to help get the 30×30 goal over the finish line in the Global Biodiversity Framework. We still have work to do for 30×30, but having nations in the UN support and sign on to this framework is significant for curtailing our climate crisis. We will continue to work with our international partners and support our youth in engaging with decision-makers.
Editor’s Note: A shortened version of this interview was published in the July 2023 print issue of The Bend. The printed version was edited for clarity and length purposes only.