Gen Z is known for being at the forefront of change when it comes to social issues and environmental activist Nalleli Cobo is among them and she’s been doing the work since she was just nine years old. Cobo lived across from an oil well in South Los Angeles which began to impact her health, causing her to suffer from headaches, nosebleeds, and heart palpitations caused by the resulting pollution. At 19 years old Nalleli Cobo led a coalition to permanently shut down the AllenCo toxic oil-drilling site in March 2020 in University Park, the neighborhood where she grew up. Because of her efforts in organizing against urban oil extraction both the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ban new oil exploration and phase out existing sites.
Now at 21-year-old Cobo was recognized for her efforts with the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, awarded annually to individuals from Europe, Asia, Africa, Islands and Island Nations, North America, and South and Central America. It’s considered to be the Nobel Prize equivalent for environmentalists.
“I fight because I believe everyone has a right to breath clean air, despite age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or zip code,” she shared in a video posted on Goldman’s Instagram.
For more than a decade now Cobo, whose mother is from Mexico and father is from Colombia, dedicated her life to the cause. She co-founded People Not Pozos (People Not Wells) which raised awareness of the issue through participation in town halls and filing complaints with regulators as well as sharing flyers in the neighborhood alongside her mom. Despite her age, she mobilized her community to speak up about their own illnesses brought on by the oil pollution in her neighborhood.
“It was so powerful to know that this community, the Spanish-speaking, Black and brown immigrant community that nobody cared about was coming over to the City Hall to make our voices heard,” she wrote in an article for BBC. She also co-founded the South Central Youth Leadership Coalition and in 2015 the organization successfully sued the city of Los Angeles for environmental racism as oil drilling was permitted in predominantly BIPOC communities. She is also a member of STAND-LA, a coalition of community groups seeking to end urban oil extraction to protect the health of the residents. University Park, where she grew up, is predominantly Mexican (29.3 percent) and Salvadoran and many are foreign-born, according to data compiled by the Los Angeles Times. Of the 1,071 active oil wells in the City of Los Angeles, 759 are located less than 1,500 feet from homes, schools, churches, and hospitals, according to the STAND-LA website.
She took a brief pause from her activism in 2020 when she was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 19 and after three surgeries she is now cancer-free and is dedicated to continuing to raise awareness and fight for change.
“If you see an injustice, or if you see something wrong, you have the power to change it and that’s something I never realized,” she told NBC News. “The Goldman Prize is giving not only me but my community the ability to share our stories and our struggles on an international scale, which is something we’ve been trying to do for years,”