Walking through the rainforests of Costa Rica on a maymester trip, Roshan Khan found her passion for biodiversity and rainforest conservation. Now, she’s leading an initiative called Gen Z for the Trees.
“I came back from the trip feeling like my whole life had changed,” said Khan, a Plan II, economics, government and international relations and global studies junior. “I was not aware about all of these things beforehand, (and) I had never been to an area like that.”
On National Rainforest Day this summer, she started Gen Z for the Trees within the Austin-based nonprofit Rainforest Partnership. The social media project aims to educate Generation Z on the importance of tropical rainforests.
Khan said Gen Z for the Trees wants to change the narrative on climate change. Aside from educational resources, the group provides its digital audience with optimistic news stories and content, as opposed to alarmist and negative messaging, she said.
“We've read papers about how this sort of negative messaging really takes a toll on the psychology of our generation,” Khan said. “We kind of approach everything morbidly, we have less hope for the future, and that's something we're seeking to change.”
Niyanta Spelman, Rainforest Partnership CEO and founder, said the goal of Gen Z for the Trees is to give future generations hope that they can respond to the threat of climate change and change its trajectory.
“(Generation Z is) going to be the only generation to demand change (for the) destiny of our planet,” Spelman said. “Our goal is to ensure that Generation (Z) does not think that what everybody says is the fate you accept.”
Similar to Khan, Spelman was looking to make a difference in the world. After making a career change, she founded Rainforest Partnership in 2007. She has since worked with interns and volunteers as young as 13.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the group hosted various community events. Now the organization is operating virtually and providing educational resources on social media.
Biology senior Chung-Wing Ko conducts research for Gen Z for the Trees. Her work is translated into infographics for the project’s Instagram and Twitter accounts.
Ko also leads research on palm oil sustainability for the project. She studies sustainable solutions because palm oil collection is responsible for 8% of the world’s deforestation.
Last summer, Ko also attended the Costa Rica maymester with Khan. While there, she said she learned a lot about how individual choices can affect the climate crisis.
“A lot of us changed our lifestyle habits during that trip,” Ko said. “For example, I went vegan. Those lifestyle decisions make a difference, I think.”
Ko said she feels fulfilled by her work with Rainforest Partnership, and their goal to inspire future generations. She said she’s motivated by the team’s eagerness to educate others every step of the way.
“I think the climate crisis is the defining problem of our generation,” Khan said. “It’s on us to imagine … a better future and to bring that future into being because clearly no one else is going to do it for us.”