Meet Jerome Foster II, Teen Climate Hero and Greta Thunberg's Friend: Saving the Planet Is 'Up to Us'

"There's no future to plan for when you're seeing the climate get worse, and nothing's being done," says Jerome Foster II

jerome foster II
Jerome Foster II. Photo: Rebecca Hale/National Geographic

Jerome Foster II is doing his part to save the world.

Though he's only a freshman in college, Foster already has some serious credibility as a climate activist. The 18-year-old from Washington D.C. is the founder of the Climate Reporter, a youth media website; the executive director of OneMillionOfUs, a youth voting advocacy group; and the youngest member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

And yet Foster doesn't really want the job.

"Every young person has a dream, but we're sacrificing that for activism," he says in PEOPLE's Earth Day special. "I wanted to do astrophysics and coding. But there's no future to plan for when you're seeing the climate get worse, and nothing's being done."

Foster says he was just 5 when his passion for climate activism began.

"I had the opportunity to have a really deep connection with nature and just to go out and build that connection," he says.

jerome foster II
Jerome Foster II at a climate strike outside of the White House. Rene Foster

As Foster got older, he began to educate himself through books and documentaries — namely former Vice President Al Gore's groundbreaking 2006 film, An Inconvenient Truth — and realized how much trouble Earth was facing.

"I understood the scale, scope and speed of it and how it was impacting not just animals, but everyday people and the entire human population," he says. "I thought adults would be able to handle it and would be able to fix this problem and get climate change under control."

But Foster says he was wrong — so by middle school, he decided to take action.

"I saw the urgency wasn't being met," says Foster, who went on to start an Instagram account to educate his class on climate change and his own virtual reality company in high school to create VR experiences on the effects of the climate emergency.

Inspired by his fellow activist and now close friend Greta Thunberg, Foster started organizing Fridays for Future school strikes in front of the White House.

"My school was not supportive of what I was doing," Foster admits of his strikes, noting that his grades subsequently suffered from missing class. "Teachers would not give make-up work... I think that that lack of support really hurt a lot of people."

"If I focus on my school and don't think about my future, then our future will be totally at risk. And I think that was a struggle and it still is," he adds.

Despite being threatened with zeros for the time he was missing, Foster protested for 58 weeks until the pandemic sent the cause online.

RELATED VIDEO: Easy Things You Should Do to Help the Planet, from Filling Your Fridge to Raking Your Leaves

"The White House is a very major point to show your resistance. Because the president can see you right outside his window," says Foster. "Even if he doesn't agree with you, there's a political will taking action with massive amounts of people every single week."

Now at Pace University in New York, Foster is determined to keep the pressure on politicians — and expects to do so until the planet is no longer in trouble.

"No one wants to be fighting for clean air in 2030," he says. "When you aren't able to plan for your future, you aren't able to feel secure. When everything is destabilizing and you don't have a fallback plan, that's incredibly devastating."

"Young people need to keep marching. We can't be complacent," he adds. "It's up to us to save our future."

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