Jessica Pons—Guardian/eyevine/Redux

It’s humbling to meet a teenager who’s already solving intractable problems and inspiring the world.

Nalleli Cobo was 9 years old when she made a connection between an oil well next to her family’s Los Angeles apartment and her nausea, asthma, and nosebleeds so severe she slept sitting up so she wouldn’t choke on the blood. Nalleli knocked on doors, started a campaign, and worked with STAND-L.A. and other community-based organizations to shut down the oil drilling site near her home.

Then Nalleli got cancer. As she fought back with surgery and chemotherapy, her allies across L.A. continued their fight for a cleaner and more sustainable city.

Today Nalleli is cancer-free. The L.A. City Council is moving to ban new wells and phase out existing ones. And at the ripe old age of 21, Nalleli won the globally prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize.

It’s not fair to ask younger generations to bail us out of the disasters we create, from climate change to pollution to environmental racism. But the incredible Nalleli Cobo gives me hope that a healthier, more just and sustainable world is right around the corner.

Ruffalo is an Emmy-winning actor and co-founder of the Solutions Project

More Must-Reads From TIME

Contact us at

Keke Palmer
Sydney Sweeney
Joel Kim Booster
Jack Harlow
5 stories