Sixteen-year-old Lily Morse has always been worried about climate change, but for a long time, she was stuck in a phase where it seemed overwhelming, and she didn’t know what to do.
That changed in the fall of 2019, when Morse attended a Fridays for Future climate strike at Los Angeles City Hall. She heard Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg speak, and it inspired her to take action.
“I had never interacted with young people who were as passionate about the climate crisis as I was,” Morse said. “I saw them and I thought, ‘I’m not alone.’”
Morse is now an environmental activist, an athlete and a junior at Bozeman High School. She’s the executive director of the Green Schools Campaign, and she’s using an upcoming 2,745-mile bike ride to raise money and awareness around climate change activism.
“Basically I thought it would be an awesome experience, and I wanted to integrate climate justice into it,” she said. “I’m hoping to build awareness for the youth climate justice movement and push for more women, queer and non-binary people in cycling and the outdoors.”
Inspired by the 2019 climate strike, Morse attended a Climate Reality Project Leadership Corps training in the summer of 2020. The program was founded by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, and it’s designed to integrate more youth in efforts to fight global warming.
As she learned more about environmental activism, Morse realized that addressing climate change wasn’t just about saving polar bears. It was about helping marginalized communities fight for a better future.
The Climate Reality training led Morse to the Green Schools Campaign — a youth-led, international initiative that pushes schools to make the transition to renewable energy. She started out as operations director, and in 2021, she became the executive director.
The Green Schools Campaign formed after youth activists convinced the Los Angeles Unified School District — the second-largest school district in the nation — and the Los Angeles Community College District to transition to 100% clean, renewable energy by 2030.
The organization assists student groups as they push their local school boards to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewable energy. Getting a commitment takes anywhere from two to three years, depending on the level of resistance from school boards, Morse said.
Because the organization has been around for under two years, it hasn’t gotten a school to commit to a renewable energy transition yet, she said, but many student groups are making progress.
“I do big-picture things, like recruiting new people and thinking about our mission statement,” Morse said. “I’ve been going through the process of slowing down and analyzing what our problems are, digging in and setting a new foundation for the next few years.”
Morse lived in Long Beach when she started with the campaign, and in 2020, her family decided to move to Bozeman. Here, she has continued her work with the organization. It involves a lot of meetings over Zoom.
Living in Bozeman, Morse has also enjoyed having more opportunities to be in the outdoors. She was a competitive rower in California, and now she has discovered she loves biking.
For the last year or so, Morse has dreamt of biking the Tour Divide — an approximately 2,500 mile gravel cycling route that follows the Rocky Mountains from Banff, Canada to the Mexican border. The bike-packing journey is self-supported, and it climbs over 220,000 vertical feet.
Lily plans to go with her dad, Greg Morse, this summer. They’ll set out on June 14, and they hope to finish the ride within 30 days. They’ve been training by cross-country skiing and doing some indoor cycling.
Recently, the two went on several 50 to 100 mile bike rides around Bozeman and Yellowstone National Park.
In preparing for the ride, Lily is raising money to “build power and awareness for the youth climate justice movement” and to “push for more women, non-binary and queer people in cycling and enjoying the outdoors.” She set up a GoFundMe with the goal of raising $10,000.
Lily said she will most likely direct some money toward the Green Schools Campaign — both for the internal costs of running the organization and for supporting the efforts of local campaigns. She’s still working out how and where she wants to invest the rest of the funds.
Greg has riding experience, and he will be there to support Lily and take care of some logistics. They’ve been going to bike repair classes, practicing first aid and gathering advice from members of the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club.
Initially Lily wanted to do the Tour Divide by herself, Greg said, but that was out of the question. It took some convincing, but he eventually decided to go with her.
“When your child wants to get involved in something like this and you can support them, you want to support them,” he said.
At 15, Lily became one of the first female Eagle Scouts in the Boy Scouts of America program. Greg is also an Eagle Scout, and he said Lily’s experiences as a scout will help them during the ride.
“She has two qualities. She is passionate, so she gets excited about things and wants to achieve them,” he said. “She also has a force of will where even when the going gets tough, she keeps going.”
Those qualities have helped her lead the Green Schools Campaign, and she’s made it a priority to spend 10 to 15 hours per week managing her team, according to Greg.
It’s a huge commitment, and it’s the cause of a lot of stress, but Greg is confident Lily is developing the skills she’ll need to lead a team and do great things in the future.
“She’s a very special person,” he said.