Robbie Bond was road tripping with his family from California to Jackson Hole when he got a call from Jonathan Jarvis, former director of the National Park Service.
Would the 13-year-old climate activist be able to make a pitstop in Utah? Jarvis asked. The acting U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Deb Haaland, would like to meet him.
A bright high school freshman who skipped two grade levels and founded a nonprofit as a preteen, Robbie has already seen more of the United States than most children his age. He’s been to some 50 national parks and monuments, championing along the way a call to America’s youth to organize and protect public lands.
Due to the clout of his organization, “Kids Speak for Parks,” media appearances and conversations with elite conservationists are fairly routine for the Oahu-born activist.
This week, Robbie is in Jackson to receive the Murie Spirit of Conservation’s “Rising Leader” award. The adult Spirit of Conservation Award winner, former Patagonia CEO Rose Marcario, selected Robbie for the honor based on his efforts to preserve the nation’s natural resources for future generations.
Speaking to the News&Guide Tuesday on the porch of the historic Murie homestead in Moose, Robbie said his appreciation for the outdoors came from his grandfather, Robin Bond.
In Hawaii, the elder Bond helped run the esteemed Hanauma Bay Nature Preserve and organized beach cleanups. Robbie was struck by the amount of dead coral that came as a result of tourist foot traffic and failure to use reef-safe sunscreen, which the 13-year-old said was “actually a big deal.”
In 2017, when the former president of the United States threatened to shutter national monuments, Robbie founded his nonprofit and took a stand.
Kids Speak for Parks centers around education; at schools next to national parks, the teenage founder regales students with stories of crevice canyoneering and ocean exploration, igniting a spark of curiosity, an impetus to learn more.
“It’s hard being a kid in this environmental movement,” Robbie said. “But kids should absolutely get involved. It is true that we will inherit the climate crisis.”
He recalled the wonder of experiencing his first park, Sequoia, in the Sierra Nevadas: “That’s the one where the trees are so big you can drive through them.”
For Robbie, rearing the next generation of climate activists starts with helping them fall in love with nature. That’s a mission championed by Teton Science Schools, which folded the Murie Center into its nonprofit in 2015, as well as Marcario.
Marcario stepped down from her role as CEO of Patagonia in June 2020, retreating first to British Columbia and then to Coachella Valley, where she called the News&Guide and described her recent hikes through Joshua Tree National Park.
“You know you spend so much of your life and time protecting wild places, but getting to actually enjoy them, in the forest and kayaking through some of the best water in the world — it’s been a pretty wonderful experience,” Marcario said. “When you’re a CEO, you don’t really have time for those kinds of things.”
During her time at Patagonia, Marcario pushed the brand to be politically active and served as an ambassador for climate change mitigation. She’s now continuing to pursue that work as an advisor for several smaller companies and entrepreneurs.
“If we can’t imagine a zero-carbon waste world, we’re not going to have a place to live,” she said, adding that businesses need to take a leading role in conservation.
Marcario pointed to Robbie’s generation as an educated, culturally-aware group with significant power to shape the future.
“I don’t think it’s solely the responsibility of the upcoming generation. But the difference is that they see the impacts much more than we did. Now we have no excuse. We see the climate crisis writ large every day,” the former CEO said.
“That generation of activism has had a huge impact, and will continue to have a huge impact in the next decade, but we need to roll up our sleeves and get started.”
Marcario and Robbie will receive the awards at a virtual Teton Science Schools celebration on Thursday. To access the livestream, email email@example.com.