Melati and Isabel Wijsen follow Greta Thunberg and Felix Finkbeiner as young thought leaders on climate change. It was a casual encounter in the school hall that provided Melati Wijsen and her sister Isabel the impetus behind their newest social initiative. The pair had already helped to impose a ban on single-use plastics on their home island of Bali, with the Bye Bye Plastic Bags movement. They are part of the growing young people determined to shape the future of the Earth, along with Greta Thunberg, who started school climate strikes Fridays for the future, and Felix Finkbeiner, who created Plant for the Planet more than a decade ago, aged nine.
Although plastic waste is a problem everywhere, it is especially acute in Bali, where it is normal for people to throw away garbage. Most of them dispose of plastic by mixing it with other garbage. Yet still more waste is swept out to sea by the many tiny rivers on the island, where it runs from the soil to the seabed, presenting a danger to marine life. This is especially poor during the rainy season — or the garbage season — generally from November to March.
The then-15-year-old Melati realized there was more they could do beside talking in school. This outlook led to the creation of YOUTHTOPIA, which will host on-the-ground local workshops and training, and which wants to become the global headquarters for the movement of young change-makers.
A change-maker initiative is at the core of YOUTHTOPIA, focused on the sisters' conviction that any young adult should make a difference, even though they do not realize how. Young people are curious to learn how to work involved on the front lines. But their latest venture will teach basic skills such as public speaking, teamwork, and how to communicate to government officials – all they've gained from Bye Bye Plastic Bags over the past six years.
Melati was 12, and Isabel was 10 when they began a move to ban plastic bags, at one point threatening a hunger strike to get the attention of the Bali governor. Today, seven years on, they have become local legends and gained worldwide recognition for their initiative, which culminated in Bali banning plastic bags and other products meant for single use.
The Girls, now 19 and 17, are members of a growing group of environmental environmentalists, including 17-year-old Swedish environment protester Greta Thunberg, pushing for immediate measures to preserve the earth. Since the beginning of their campaign, the Sisters have traveled around the world to speak at major events. Between the age of 15 and 13, TED lectures were given in London on Bali 's garbage issue. Time magazine named them as the Most Influential Teens, and CNN applauded them as Young Wonders.
Now, the sisters are struggling with a problem they could not have predicted: how to be activists during a time of pandemic and social isolation. Shelter-at-home laws also expanded the usage of plastic both in containers for packaged foods and in safety clothing for health care staff, and has a significant effect on the anti-plastic campaign. But she also welcomes the unintended benefits of widespread lockdowns in reducing pollution and allowing wildlife to return to some urban areas.
Melati says she hoped that 2020 would be a year of action on the environment, building on increasing support among young people for measures to reduce plastics waste and slow climate change.