La Jolla teen takes on environmental advocacy as ‘the most pressing issue to deal with’
People in Your Neighborhood
La Jolla High School student Emma Weibel competes on the school speech and debate team, plays field hockey and violin and just finished reading her 28th book of the year.
“I use it as my escape from the heaviness of reality,” she said. “I like to read fantasy and romance.”
Sometimes she needs the escape, because she’s very into some heavy issues.
Environmental advocacy is her “life’s passion,” she said, and her goal is to be an environmental lawyer.
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“I’ve grown up in a household where we’ve always been pushed to be politically aware … and empathetic for a lot of different communities,” Emma said.
Emma, who will be a junior next school year, has ramped up her advocacy the past couple of years. She’s co-president of La Jolla High’s environmental club and used that platform to organize student attendance at various events, such as one protesting high gas prices.
The club also was part of an electrification campaign aimed at the San Diego Unified School District, during which Emma and others spoke at an April school board meeting.
The campaign “successfully got a unanimous vote for phasing out fossil fuels within the district and electrifying our infrastructure,” Emma said. “That was a very big win.”
And most recently, Emma was among the teenage organizers of a protest in downtown San Diego against fossil fuels and oil companies.
The June 29 protest at Waterfront Park in front of City Hall was an “end to dependence day,” Emma said.
“We’re calling on California to end its dependence on fossil fuels and specifically on [Gov. Gavin] Newsom to step up as a climate leader to stop all new oil permits and to roll out setback zones that make it so we’re not drilling in neighborhoods,” she said.
Emma organized the protest as part of her membership in SanDiego350, a nonprofit that “works with adults and youths … on every corner of the climate crisis,” she said.
During the protest, which drew about 40 people — including San Diego Unified board member Cody Petterson, whose District C includes La Jolla — the young activists had fake oil poured on them and gave speeches.
Ending dependence on fossil fuels is imperative, she said, because “fossil fuels are the biggest drivers of climate change.”
“Climate action is my whole life,” Emma said. “Environmentalism is a path I chose for myself because I think it is the most noble cause in the world.
“As a young person with a lot of climate anxiety, it seems like this was the most pressing issue to deal with. We can’t really have justice or continue as a society with our deteriorating Earth.”
Emma’s family also participates in advocacy. Her mother, Sara Gianella Weibel, would take Emma and her two younger siblings — now 12 and 9 — to women’s rights marches and co-chaired Torrey Pines Elementary School’s diversity club, of which Emma was a member.
In fifth grade, Emma helped organize and spoke at a walkout against gun violence after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in 2018. She later led Ally Action at Muirlands Middle School.
And in April, she and the La Jolla High environmental club held a thrift shop on campus that found new homes for hundreds of items of clothing and donated hundreds more to homeless shelters. The shop made more than $100 to be used to fund recycling bins for the campus.
“Climate action is my whole life. Environmentalism is a path I chose for myself because I think it is the most noble cause in the world.”
— Emma Weibel
In May, Emma posted a video on the club’s Instagram account (bit.ly/LJHSEnviroVideo) as part of her efforts to create a “climate community.”
The video has garnered nearly 2 million views, a “very unexpected” result, Emma said. But she uses that audience to share action items and other information, urging high school students to join environmental action, climate or sustainability groups.
“I’ve really loved being able to show people their place in the environmentalism movement and then finding my own place,” she said. ◆