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Idaho, you need to meet these environmental advocates. It’s their passion, not their politics.

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Asha Muhingi, Jayden Rehwalt, 123rf
Jayden Rehwalt (left) and Asha Muhingi (right)

Asha Muhingi’s and Jayden Rehwalt’s pasts are dramatically different. Rehwalt was born and raised in Boise and Muhingi was a refugee from Congo before coming to Boise at nine years old.

But their passion for change and their hopes for treating the planet with greater respect are one-and-the-same.

“My relationship to the environment has kind of been my past,” said Rehwalt. “It's my present right now with all the things I've been involved in, and it's hopefully going to be my future. So, it's really important to me.”

“I really want to go back to my home country and help. Congo … it's a developing country. So, poverty is still a thing there,” said Muhangi. “I want to major in either environmental science or international law and become a lawyer. So, I can just go back and see how I can change and drive policy towards improving our environment in Congo.”

Muhangi and Rehwalt visited with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about the Energy Security and Climate Change Investments in the recently signed Inflation Reduction Act. It’s hundreds of billions of dollars, an unprecedented investment in climate policies, but it’s also what Muhang and Rehwalt said is, “a good start.”

“It's there, it's in the air, we're breathing it, it's in our lives. And for children, it's going to keep getting worse if we don't fix it now.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning, I’m George Prentice. Climate change. Global warming. We need to talk… not just because weather records are being broken nearly every day this week, The Energy Security and Climate Change legislation just signed into law promises the largest investment in climate action in US history, nearly $400 billion. Indeed, there have been plenty of voices who have weighed in on this, but more often than not, it has been a political figure who most likely takes money from donors who have some financial interest in this. But this morning, we're going to bring in two voices that have definitely earned a place at the proverbial table. And this morning, they have certainly earned a place at the microphones of Morning Edition. So, let's say good morning to them. Asha Mungai is here, 17 years old, born in Congo, a refugee to the U.S. and has been living here in Boise since the age of nine. And Jayden Rehwalt is here, 18 years old and a recent graduate of Centennial. So, let's say good morning to them both.

ASHA MUHINGI: Good morning.

JAYDEN REHWALT: Good morning.

PRENTICE: Well, I'm going to ask you both, up top, where your personal passion for the environment comes from and why it's as important as it is to you. Jayden, why don't you start?

REHWALT: All right. Well, I was born and raised here in Boise, Idaho, where the outdoors is really accessible. My family's an outdoorsy family, so I was raised camping, hiking, whitewater rafting, all that sort of thing. And so, it's a really safe place for me being outside. And I've had a lot of fond memories and I really want to ensure that other people can have that same experience. And another thing is, a few years ago I started dealing with climate anxiety because it's just a really overwhelming environment we live in now. And I started getting involved in certain things and this last year I got to take an environmental science class and I started learning how everything is super connected from all the unique ecosystems we have and all the biomes and how we are connected to the environment and how just everything is super interconnected in the world. And it's just been really fascinating getting to see how our relationship with the environment impacts like the world we live in. I've also from being involved in activism. I've got to meet some really cool people and I've got some really cool opportunities and it's kind of helped pave the way for a career, hopefully related to the environment in the future. So, my relationship to the environment has kind of been my past. It's my present right now with all the things I've been involved in, and it's hopefully going to be my future. So, it's really important to me.

MUHINGI: For me, my passion really lies in the fact that, of course, back where I was born before in Congo, even though I was a refugee, I didn't really live in Congo. I lived in Zambia. That's where my refugee camp was. And to me, my whole young lifestyle was just having to play outside. The outside, in nature, was my playground… you know, whatever you could find outside, sticks, stones, whatever, that's all you play with. And I think that was really just what made me so tied to nature and environment. I really couldn't see any other way to spend time. And so, when I came to the United States, it was kind of a little bit different, you know, spending time in class instead of building for 8 hours max, you know, just never really going outside unless you're like recess or lunch. And it just kept getting worse in high school. And I find myself just sitting in a building for 8 hours and not even going outside most times. And I think that really made me just want to make our nature something that we can all be included in. And so being able to join the Youth Climate Action Committee was something that was new to me. I wasn't really much in climate, but it really did make me think back of home and how I can be able to work in the community because nature was also something I can be able to focus on and can be again, like Jaden said, something that I always focus on in the future. It also has been in my past. It's in my roots for my tradition in Congo and with my family being mostly farmers. So I really sympathize with that and I really hope it's something we can keep working on.

PRENTICE: Well, this Climate Change bill is stunningly complex, but I'm hoping that you could take a crack at it.

MUHINGI: Yes.

PRENTICE: Asha, I'm going to ask you first and then Jayden, if you could weigh in, is there something that caught your eye in this… something that that got your attention?

MUHINGI: Obviously, the amount that this bill is trying to invest into different kind of interests is a lot of money. Yeah, it's a big number. But one of those smaller interests is obviously reducing pollution because I included that sense for a lot of communities in the United States, it's really kind of a big impact for the underserved communities, marginalized people. It really means a lot because that's one of the many things that has affected our lives, even though we don't see it. It's there, it's in the air, we're breathing it, it's in our lives. And for children who are growing up, it's going to keep getting worse if we don't fix it now. So, when I saw the green energy, it's obviously something that really caught my eyes because it is important if we don't work on it now and really don't hold the corporations in who are impacting and also kind of contributing to the worsening state of our environment, it's obviously going to be there. We're going to be paying for the consequences later on. So, I think for this section, especially in this bill, it really did kind of caught my attention more. And I just wanted to be able it's obviously something that's really new, but I really want to see that be something that they can continue working on and definitely see improvement and progress in it. That's what I really hope.

REHWALT: You know, I thought it was really exciting, too, that we're focusing on clean energy. One of the most exciting things I thought was that they're putting tax credits in for clean energy. So, you know, tax subsidies and grants, it's really incentivizing clean energy, which is something that as the United States I feel like we should be doing, we should be leading the way in clean energy. And I feel like this is definitely a step in the right direction and it's hopefully going to make clean energy more accessible for people as well, which I think is really exciting. And, you know, any climate friendly legislation like this is always just a step in the right direction and it's always very fulfilling to kind of see that people do sort of care. And, you know, it is a large sum of money. It's almost $370 Billion being put towards clean energy, which, you know, in and of itself is exciting, even if it feels like it isn't quite enough at times. But I like that it's incentivizing clean energy and hopefully we're going to see it become more accessible for people.

PRENTICE: Let me throw you both a curveball here. So, Jaden, you first. Is there something is there anything that people could do tomorrow that people could do right now that would affect change?

REHWALT: You know, honestly, if I could go back in time and tell myself something like this, I would say, just start getting involved. There's a large community of people who are also interested in the environment and who are also interested in preserving the environment that we live in. And if you just start poking around and start meeting people and start getting involved, you'll start noticing there's a big community of people who are super supportive and who are super amazing. And the more we all start getting involved, the more voices we have on the same issue, you know, the more we're going to get done as a community. So, working together is definitely important and that starts with everyone getting involved.

MUHINGI: For me, I would say be conscious of your actions and have kind of respect for the different policies that are happening. I feel like a lot of people think if you're going to be involved in climate, you're kind of going to be a tree hugger. You're going to give up all of these other like materialize things happening in the world. But it's really just to always think, what do you need more than what do you want? So, I feel like giving an extra thought towards those actions you're going to be putting forward in your community is obviously not really a big sacrifice. Anyone is asking, you know, we're not asking you to change your whole life, but really just changing those different aspects that will obviously have an effect and consequence to the different communities anyone is in. And really, if anyone does that, you know, whether it's just being able to just take time to vote on a policy that's being put forward in the community or just being able to ride your bike for that one day for going somewhere that won't take a lot of time. Whatever it is that you're going to be doing, it has to be something that you know you're guiding yourself towards and knowing that you're always going to constantly be thinking about it.

PRENTICE: Asha, what do you want to do some day?

MUHINGI: I really want to go back to my home country and help. You know, I think especially for Congo, it's a developing country. So, poverty is still a thing there, you know. And so, I really just want to go back and right now I want to major in either environmental science or international law and become a lawyer. So, I can just go back and see how I can change and drive policy towards improving our environment in Congo.

PRENTICE: Jaden, what would you like to do? What's the big picture for you?

REHWALT: The big picture for me is I also am still planning on staying related to the environment in the future. I really want to study environmental studies and then go to law school. I want to be hopefully an environmental lawyer, someone kind of on the front lines that's helping secure environmental, environmentally friendly policy and climate friendly legislation. So hopefully I'll be with the running with the big guys in a few years, getting some legislation push that is helping out the environment.

PRENTICE: It's been a while since I was optimistic about tomorrow and the tomorrows after that. But this is one of those occasions. I am eternally grateful for your time today and for giving us more than a bit to think about. And we can't toss you the keys soon enough. And they are Asha Muhingii and Jayden Rehwalt. Indeed, please stay at the table with this conversation.

MUHINGI: Thank you. It was great being here.

REHWALT: Yeah. Thank you for this opportunity.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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