By Anna Mika, Campus Program Associate, Clean Air-Cool Planet
I am so impressed and inspired after spending two days with middle and high school teens at the 4th annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, held at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Today’s youth are much more informed about climate change science (causes and effects) and fired up about making a difference than I could have imagined.
When I was in grade 7, I did a geography class project on the greenhouse effect, which sparked my interest in the topic. At the time, there weren’t specialized climate change courses offered until I got to university and, even then, there were only a couple. At the Summit, one young, bright student said that her friends thought it was cool that she was going to the Summit and the fact that she was “interested in climate change.” The student pointed out to us that climate change is not just a specialized topic to study or some kind of hobby. Everyone needs to realize that it will impact (and already is impacting) all of us and we all need to be engaged and work together to make a real difference. I couldn’t have said it better myself.
The 2012 Summit started off with a highly energetic presentation by Brain Stilwell from ACE. He narrated while an animated video played on the screen. It was a highly effective, entertaining, and easy to follow presentation. At the end, Brian asked us to do one thing (D.O.T.), which is a pledge to commit to change one behavior that betters the environment. People can sign up via text or the web, which is very fast and easy for many teens to do.
From this and many other presentations at the Summit, I learned a lot about data visualization and effective presentations. The Wild Center has an amazing NOAA/NASA 3-D globe that they can use to display different data sets. We saw melting ice caps, warming ocean currents that feed hurricanes, rising levels in local lakes that are increasing to unprecedented levels, and the projections for future temperature increases. Seeing the data on the globe change regionally and temporally in the past and future was very tangible and powerful.
Ecologist Jerry Jenkins also gave a sobering plenary talk about the impacts of and solutions to climate change. He said that to solve the problem of climate change, we’ll need courage and discipline. That we’ll prevail, but there will be enormous loss. He commented that we can easily get distracted by green actions that seem great, but won’t make much of a difference, and that is why we’ll need discipline to focus.
Mr. Jenkins and many others talked about the recent “violent” storms like Irene, Ike, Lee, and Sandy and how they were becoming more widespread, covering more area. What is the chance that these once a century storms would have occurred within 2 years without climate change? Possible, but slim. He pointed out that climate protection is important, but there are limits to how much we can protect. The best solution would be to make emitting carbon very expensive, but that thrift, efficiency, and eliminating petroleum are the key solutions. Investing in infrastructure will pay off in the long-term. Finally, Mr. Jenkins urged the youth to protest, but also be practical. There is also a place for bankers in the fight against climate change, but the effort and skill needs to be focused for that goal. He encouraged us to “do the numbers” and see where your emissions are coming from, which led well into my Clean Air-Cool Planet workshop on how to do a greenhouse gas inventory for your school!
The hour and a half CA-CP workshop was well attended by about 10-15 people interested in completing or updating their school’s greenhouse gas inventory. I gave a very brief overview about why greenhouse gas inventories and climate action plans are important for climate change mitigation and how to do an inventory. Next, people got to play with data! They got an introduction about how to enter data into the Campus Carbon Calculator and where to view their results. People had some practical questions as well and were very interested in the new web-based Campus Carbon Calculator.
Mark and Kristin Kimball really livened up the mood and got us moving – literally! From having us run laps and stretch, munch on raw honey, carrots, and rye grain from their Essex Farm, and Mark riding unicycles while juggling flame throwers, they were wildly entertaining! On a serious note, Kristin said that if sustainability is delicious, fun, and beautiful (or just 1 or 2 of these), then it will be easier and more people will want to be involved. She said that if people knew how fun farming was, we would have a hard time keeping people away from it. Kristin, herself, has committed to doing one hard action that she has trouble doing. She promised by the next Summit to have contacted her local and State representatives to ask for their vote on some climate change-related legislature and she invited us to do the same.
Dominic Frongillo, a UN Youth Climate Delegate and Councilor/Deputy Town Supervisor for the Town of Caroline, reminded us about the responsibility for our actions. He was inspiring and told us about his family history and how he personally felt obligated to action. He emphasized that half the world is currently under 25 years of age and this is the generation that will “make or break” the planet. Brother Yusuf Burgess told us about his “XBOX detox” programs where he takes inner city youth and exposes them to nature so that they can feel connected to it.
The Wild Center itself it a wonderful and inspirational place with lots to see. It’s an open space in the middle of a formerly degraded agricultural area, which now has native grasses, trees, and wildlife, and a reconstructed pond. They have a green roof and solar panels on the property showing their own commitment to sustainability. The indoor exhibits invite the visitor to interact while he/she is learning about native flora and fauna. It was the perfect setting for the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit.