She's 12 and she's trying to save the world by skipping school

Denver girl co-organizer of nationwide event

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

(CNN) - Haven Coleman is out to save the world.

The 12-year-old seventh grader from Denver, Colorado, protests climate change outside government buildings and businesses. She calls out state lawmakers in speeches at town halls and on Twitter. And on Friday, she'll take on her biggest endeavor yet: co-organizing the US Youth Climate Strike, a national student protest on March 15.

Inspired by 16-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and the school walkouts in Europe, Coleman brought the movement to the US along with co-directors 16-year-old Isra Hirsi and 13-year-old Alexandria Villaseñor. Now students in nearly 50 states will skip school on Friday to fight climate change.

When Coleman's not on phone calls organizing the climate strikes, writing op-eds or doing media interviews, she likes drawing and playing with her dog. Also science homework.

"I know that sounds really bad, but science homework is a break," she said.

Coleman took a break from saving the world to chat with CNN about the upcoming school strike, her passion for fighting climate change and her favorite shows to watch on Netflix.

The following is an edited and condensed version of the conversation.

What inspired you to fight climate change?

About two years ago, I had this most amazing 5th grade social studies teacher. He would integrate stuff that's going on in the real world with stuff that we were learning about. We were learning about ancient Amazon trade and he brought up deforestation. I learned more about deforestation, and I was like, "Oh my gosh, it's endangering my favorite animal, the sloth."

Then while researching on a way to stop deforestation, I found climate change. Once I learned about climate change, I was like, "Oh my gosh, this is affecting me, it's affecting the whole world, it's affecting so many people in that it's been ruling my life and it will be ruling my life for my whole life." And so, I was like, "I gotta do something."

I got educated through the Climate Reality Project. I got trained there. And then, I talked to my [congressional] representative, and it snowballed from there.

What are you working on these days?

I work with different organizations helping them with stuff that they're working on right then. When Sunrise had their sit-ins, I helped by coming and speaking. But right now, I am one of the founders and co-directors of US Youth Climate Strike. That's been taking up most of my time so far.

How did the upcoming school strike come together?

It started with Greta Thunberg. She started striking in the first week of school and she has been striking ever since. Everybody started striking after her, and it made big waves and change.

I wanted to do what she was doing because if something is making that much change, you should also do it because then you can make change.

I started contacting possible state leads. I contacted Isra Hirsi because she does so amazing with Minnesota Can't Wait, and she is a phenomenal speaker. I was like, "Hey, do you want to be Minnesota state lead?" And she was like, "Yeah!" And then she asked me, "Hey, do you want help nationally?" And I was like "Sure!" And we became co-directors.

A week later, Alexandria Villaseñor merged with US Youth Climate Strike, and then she became a co-lead and founder. Now we have almost all 50 states. We're going to have big turnouts across the country, and DC is our national strike. And it's going to be super amazing.

What do you hope to accomplish with this strike?

When you strike, you're making change. When you're striking, you're creating waves. People are like, "Oh my gosh, what's going on?" It's super. Duper. Cool.

When so many kids are striking, we're stopping the whole system. And if we continue striking, we'll keep the system halted. And that scares politicians and it scares the government. So, they have listen to us.

Why is it so hard to get adults to pay attention?

They've seen so many movements and so many trial and errors of trying to fight climate change, trying to get people to mobilize, they sort of get sad and depressed because they don't think it's possible. So they start blocking us out. They start blocking out everything. They sort of don't listen to us anymore.

But us doing this radical action, risking our education and not going to school, that gets their attention.

What gives you hope?

One, we have a ton of different renewable energy sources and we don't even need coal plants anymore.

Two, what gives me hope is that I know we can do it. I know we can do it in 11 years. We can do so much in 11 years.

What gives me hope is that we're actually trying. Even if we don't get to 100 percent, I know that we are trying. And I know that in the end, we will win. I know that's cheesy to say like, "The good guys always win," but in every battle, the good guy wins. And we're going to win this time.

What is the biggest thing standing in your way?

Probably trying to get political will. Like, that's really hard. We've been getting attention from adults but to get this radical change, we have to convince the people in power. So the problem is elected officials.

Elected officials and higher up governments, they can do stuff way faster. We could eliminate all fossil fuels in so little time if we had political will.

We're playing with generations of kids and of people that are not even born yet. We're playing with time itself -- we are messing with so much stuff, and yet we're not acting on it.

What do you tell the people who say that you should be in school instead of striking?

When I'm here striking, I'm not doing it just because I want to get out of school. I love my school and I love going to school, but when I'm doing this, I'm risking my education. I'm not doing this for fun. I go so far behind in schoolwork when I do this, and I can get in trouble for that.

I'm not going to school because I'm fighting for something that I think is worth fighting for. Why are you judging me when you could also be fighting?

Is it frustrating to take on this fight from such a young age?

I am frustrated. Because when I have to do this, that means I don't have a normal childhood. Fighting for climate change, which is something we should all be doing, has pretty much taken my childhood away. I've pretty much halted my whole family. Every single moment involves climate change because I'm dedicated to saving stuff. If everybody was dedicated to saving our planet, to protecting future generations, to saving my future, then we wouldn't have this problem.

We've had decades of inaction. If those decades were full of action and hard work, then we wouldn't be here.

Do you feel like other kids your age care as much as you do? Does it ever feel lonely?

It feels lonely, yeah. When I talk about it to the kids my age, they sort of tune me out. At the same time, I feel proud because I'm the only one in my age group pretty much, in my school and probably in the district, that is fighting at the capacity and as hard. I am proud that I am fighting because I understand this stuff when I'm younger, and I know right from wrong, and I know that when there is injustice, I will speak out.

But when I get to work with Isra and Lexi [Alexandria Villaseñor], it's amazing because I finally feel like I have a group of people I can talk to and that I relate to because they're fighting the same fight as me.

What are you most proud of?

I think this [the March 15 Youth Climate Strike] is going to be the thing I'm most proud of, because we've been working so hard for the past month and a half. This is a really young movement. We've just worked so hard on this, and I know that it's going to reach people. This is going to change things. I'm just so proud.

What do you do for fun?

I like drawing. I like watching Netflix, playing with my dog and probably doing science homework. I know that sounds really bad, but science homework is a break. Like [our teacher] sends us funny videos, like science-y videos since we're learning about space right now. So that's a break.

What are you watching on Netflix?

I like watching cooking shows. I like watching "The Office." Just little things to take a break, but I can't really take long breaks or else I'll get far behind. But those are a few things that I like to do when I have a little bit of free time.

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