Think recycling one plastic bottle or turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth doesn't matter? Think again, challenges 13-year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.
"How does one college kid make a difference on a global scale? It's simple things in everyday life. It's always going to start small, with each and every one of us as individuals, and then it has to become a community thing," he told Pikes Peak Community College students Wednesday, during the school's Earth Day observance.
Xiuhtezcatl is proof that one person - one very young person - can make a difference. And if he can do it, so can his peers, he said.
"Past generations had a party on this planet and left it for us to clean up," he said. "Being a first-world country, it's easy to ignore the problems - air pollution, water quality, floods, droughts. They're not going to go away. They're already changing the world. But this is not just about saving the trees anymore. It's about saving ourselves - humanity."
The indigenous activist who lives in Boulder outlined current environmental problems, possible solutions and needed actions in a multi-media presentation that included original rap songs he performed with his younger brother, Itzcuauhtli.
PPCC students were on their feet, clapping and responding to lyrics, such as "We are the change," and "Give back to the earth what we have taken."
PPCC fine arts student Kenny Idleman said the event was "inspirational."
"I think he's totally right - one person can make a difference, and action starts locally," Idleman said. "Sometimes it takes just one small moment a person gives, like turning off the lights."
Xiuhtezcatl, a name chosen by Aztec elders of Mexico and pronounced "shoe-tez-cot," said he has always had a special connection to nature because of his father's Aztec heritage, growing up in the outdoor-oriented state of Colorado and his mother's environmental interests.
Xiuhtezcatl became an activist after he watched "The 11th Hour," a 2007 documentary created and narrated by actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
He joined Earth Guardians, a Boulder-based, youth-led environmental group that his mother, Tamara Roske, founded, and gave his first speech at a climate change rally at age 6.
From there, Xiuhtezcatl has gone on to become the youth director of the Earth Guardians. He's led 35 rallies and instigated impressive change in Boulder, including working with the City Council to stop pesticide use in local parks, require companies to contain coal ash, institute a fee on plastic bags and move toward total renewable energy power.
"You have to be the change you wish to see in the world," he said, "and trust me, it's going to be worth it."
Xiuhtezcatl was the youngest speaker at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2012 and is one of 24 youth campaigning for a Presidential Youth Council to be formed to advise the President of the United States.
"This is our darkest hour but we have the power, with technology, with young people, to turn it into our finest hour," he said. "Education is where it starts."
In addition to being more environmentally conscious at home and work, PPCC students can join the sustainability club, help out with the campus garden, which benefits the culinary and dietetic programs, and get involved with the school's recycling program, said Konrad Shiarbaum, sustainability coordinator and organizer of the event.
"My hope for PPCC is that we come to know that our daily actions greatly impact our surrounding environment's ability to sustain life," he said.