Earlham student Isao Sakai grew up in Tokyo thinking that climate change only affected polar bears or small island nations susceptible to rising sea levels.
“I was struck to learn climate change imposes a severe threat to my own future,” Sakai said, reflecting on an environmental science course he took in high school.
“With the typhoons, droughts, and other climate disasters in Japan, I thought I can reasonably lose my own future,” he said. “Learning that scientists predict we only have about 10 years to solve this issue, I thought it is my responsibility as someone who realized action had to be taken.”
Sakai, who started studying at Earlham remotely this fall as a member of the Class of 2024, is one of Japan’s foremost youth activists organizing and participating in climate strikes across the nation’s largest city. He is a founding member of Fridays for Future Tokyo, a youth climate movement that has called on city officials to revise its carbon emission reduction goal and pursue ambitious climate goals.
“It is important because our entire civilization is facing this threat, but also it is important because it is the chance to completely reshape the world,” he said. “What made me choose Earlham was its strong dedication to social justice. I was struck by how students and faculty strive to enhance peace and justice in the world. Since I had a big passion in promoting climate and social justice, I thought I could find people that I can share the value with at Earlham.”
During his senior year of high school, he became a spokesperson for several climate strikes in the city, which drew thousands of youth and environmental activists to the streets of Tokyo for hours-long demonstrations.
He also did public relations with nongovernmental organizations, hosted training events for activists, and planned strategies to challenge the government’s energy policy. Sakai was even interviewed for a story published by Bloomberg that documents his group’s March 2020 Protest outside the headquarters of Mizuho Financial Group Inc., a large coal financier.
“With the various actions other NGOs made we succeeded in making Mizuho pledge to divest from coal,” Sakai said.
Sakai learned about Earlham from the Grew Bancroft Foundation, which provides scholarships to Japanese students seeking a liberal arts education in the United States. The Earlham-Grew Scholarship provides at least 70 percent of the College’s tuition for four years. Up to three Earlham students each year may earn the scholarship.
“I am really interested in learning about the power of imagination and literature to solve climate change,” Sakai said. “I just learned that this field is called environmental humanities in my American Literature and Ecology class at Earlham. I would like to focus more deeply on it.”
Even though Sakai remains in Japan due to the coronavirus pandemic, he has grown to appreciate how dedicated his professors are to supporting students.
“Through the learning experience with passionate students and faculty, I think can explore more about the values and multidisciplinary approaches to imagine the world beyond climate change.”