17-year-old Shreya Chaudhuri has a mission -- to fight climate change.
Two years ago, wildfires ravaged California, burning over 1,670,000 acres of land, making it the deadliest and most destructive wildfire season in state history. This changed Chaudhuri, a high school freshman at the time.
"50% of Americans don't believe in climate change, and I was shocked," she said. "Even though we were experiencing some of the negative impacts of wildfires, we still refuse to take action and most of that came from ignorance."
Now an incoming senior at Quarry Lane School in Dublin, Chaudhuri described how starting up her Project Planet came with its challenges. But that didn't stop her. With the determination to make a difference, she founded the nonprofit that spreads environmental literacy on climate change to youth.
What once started as a small project, with just Chaudhuri, is now an organization with 60 people worldwide and recognized by the United Nations Association of the USA. She was recently awarded the Ambassador Award from the association and InnerView for her progress in developing UN sustainable development goals.
"We are incredibly proud of Shreya for this well-deserved recognition," Sabri Arac, head of school at Quarry Lane, said in a statement. "Her dedication to preserving the environment and sharing her passion and knowledge with our students is absolutely wonderful."
The nonprofit is not just a local or nationwide cause, but an international one. Project Planet has reached over a dozen countries, including the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Singapore, India, Nigeria, Canada, Suriname, Japan and the Philippines.
"It's really interesting to learn more about peoples' backgrounds. We have someone from Mongolia actually who's working with their government to reduce soil pollution because that's a big problem there," Chaudhuri said. "Usually we're stuck in this mindset of 'our world.' For example, I only knew about the wildfires, but working with people across the world made my mindset bigger."
At first, Project Planet was just going to schools in the area. But Chaudhuri and her organization knew that wasn't enough.
"We realized we aren't going to be able to impact a lot because it's a limited number of people," she said. "Then we realized about environmental injustice problems and environmental racism. A lot of these communities that need education the most have underfunded educational systems."
As a result, an anti-lead battery acid pollution campaign is in the works for Project Planet. Chaudhuri explained how she was inspired to start the program after learning about environmental racism and how it impacts lower-income communities. She cited Los Angeles County, where Exide Technologies had been dumping lead battery acid in Latino communities for decades. Consequently, severe water pollution caused children to have severe levels of lead in their blood.
"This impacted their mental capabilities because lead is a neuro-toxin," Chaudhuri said. "Because of that, they weren't able to stop the pollution and their educational system prevented them from finding a solution in their communities."
According to Chaudhuri, Project Planet is planning to extend online so anyone around the world can access their information. The nonprofit is currently working on an online curriculum in collaboration with scientists to take action against climate change. The curriculum is aimed toward students from grades five to 12.
She also mentioned the creation of a mentorship program where students are paired up with professionals to gain an understanding of environmental literacy.
As an environmental activist and founder of Project Planet, Chaudhuri said she plans to major in marine biology or environmental sciences. She plans to continue managing Project Planet as her academic journey continues, hoping that further college connections she makes will increase the reach of the organization.
In regard to what keeps her motivated, Chaudhuri had a simple yet insightful answer: the future generation.
"I've been fortunate enough to travel a lot of places around the world, and experience nature," she said. "I feel very devastated that might not be a possibility because of our political system around the world and our government. I really want to do something about it because I have the privilege and been given the opportunities to make a difference."