Contributing Writer: Aelwen Johnstone, Millennium Kids Youth Board Member

Aelwen Johnstone. Photo Rae Fallon

Millennium Kids (MK), is an environmental youth organisation based in Australia. We have been championing youth empowerment and environmental advocacy since 1996, inspiring youth-led initiatives and leaving an indelible mark on the environment, individuals and communities globally. MK has provided opportunities to thousands of young minds to upskill through advocacy, education, innovation and community action.

A Youth Board of fifteen kids aged 10-24 years steers the organisation, ensuring that MK achieves its mission and values. An Adult Council oversees legal obligations and governance, and a small staff delivers core business and programs. That this structure puts the power in the hands of youth is evident in all the work we undertake, from ensuring that we have ethically sourced, value aligned funding and partnerships, to the types of projects we support and deliver. Our project-based learning programs are guided by adult mentors, Indigenous knowledge holders, and subject matter experts who move beyond the confines of traditional education to provide alternative pathways for youth to engage in environmental action.

Green Lab Planning, 2020
Listening to an Indigenous Perspective, 2021

In 2018 MK surveyed over five hundred young people, seeking their perspectives on pressing environmental issues. The response was overwhelming — they were deeply concerned about climate change, and championed the role of trees in combating the rising temperatures in our cities. This resulted in the creation of Green Lab, to increase, protect, and monitor the tree canopy in our city. The vision of tree-lined streets and vibrant green spaces is not just a dream for youth — it’s a mission we’re passionately pursuing. We envision cities where wildlife thrives and bushland is genuinely safeguarded for future generations.

Green Lab is a multifaceted approach recognizing the diverse strengths and passions of youth and their capacity to develop and implement real-world solutions. We become architects of change, crafting innovative responses to the most pressing challenges of our time. Despite setbacks at my own project sites, I have been involved in planting hundreds of trees and love to see the plantings change over time.  Some of the trees I planted are much taller than me now.

When I share my story, especially with those who have the power to do better, I have a mixture of feelings. Pride for having achieved so much, yet frustration at the politics that have constrained my vision. MK supports kids like me by amplifying our voices and seeks out opportunities for us to share our perspectives. This led me, as a 16-year-old, to speak about my project to vegetate drainage basins at the Perth World Forum on Urban Forests and to present about MK at the Second World Forum on Urban Forests this past fall in Washington, D.C.

Historically youth have been excluded from decision making in planning processes, robbing society of critical perspectives that are deeply informed by the realities of the present and aspirations for the future. Young people have a genuine understanding of the challenges that lie ahead and are uniquely positioned to offer fresh insights, and innovative solutions. Ignoring our voices diminishes the richness of our collective wisdom and stifles the potential for truly sustainable and inclusive solutions.

The slogan of Millennium Kids? “Have Fun, Eat Chocolate and Care for the Environment.”

Millennium Kids. Photo Rae Fallon
Millenium Kids Preston and Patrick. Photo Naga Kasarla