Youth voices in climate action

Youth voices in climate action

We often hear that we should take care of the Earth for future generations. This is true, and we should absolutely do everything we can to make the world a cleaner, healthier, and more equitable place. Simultaneously, we should also recognize all the contributions that young people can and are making to the climate movement right now. I had the pleasure of attending the 13th Adirondack Youth Climate Summit (AYCS) earlier this month at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY where I got to see firsthand the impressive contributions young people are making to their schools, communities, and beyond. The AYCS fostered a youth-led space where young people learned together, shared ideas, and planned for future climate action. I left feeling hopeful and like more youth should be included in current decision-making processes.

The opening session of the 2023 AYCS.

The AYCS this year brought together young people from 26 schools and other groups from across the Adirondack region. Immediately, it became clear that youth were heavily involved in all aspects of the summit. A group of youth summiteers helped plan the logistics and special events throughout the summit, introduced all the speakers, and led some sessions themselves. On the first day, parallel sessions about topics such as local food systems, fast fashion, wildlife, civic engagement, environmental justice, and a plethora of other topics were punctuated by plenary sessions by university faculty, federal agencies, and youth. 

AYCS attendees in a session on environmental justice led by another youth.

It is easy to feel discouraged or helpless when trying to tackle an issue as large as climate change, so mental health was also prioritized. Multiple third space areas were set up around the summit for the youth to respond to prompts, create communal art projects, or screen print t-shirts. 

A third space art activity where youth decorated recently fallen leaves. The decorated leaves were attached to larger art installations that were raffled off at the end of the summit.

On the second day, the youth and adults attended separate sessions so that the youth had space to talk freely about climate change concerns and solutions and the adults learned about professional development opportunities and strategies for becoming an effective youth ally. Organizations, state and federal agencies, and youth shared information about their ongoing efforts plus career and professional development opportunities at a professional expo. Towards the end of the summit, the youth shared what they have already accomplished and drafted overarching climate action plans for the next year. In the past year, the youth established recycling and composting programs at their schools, hosted carbon neutral proms, and had their municipalities designated as Climate Smart Communities. Looking forward, they want to continue this work by taking such actions as creating educational campaigns for their schools, elementary students, and their broader communities about climate change or public transit options and establish food forests to act as carbon sinks and as a food resource for the community. Climate change is a complex and multifaceted issue, but these youth seemed up to the challenge. The AYCS showed me that while the youth are directly impacted by climate change effects, they simultaneously have great ideas and are motivated to take action. Decision-makers only need to create space for them to become more involved in the conversations that will shape their futures.

It is heartening that more and more organizations and agencies are beginning to see the value of incorporating the youth voice into climate efforts. Greta Thunberg has served as one of the primary climate activism figures for several years. Earlier in 2023, a group of young people in Montana won a lawsuit against the state claiming that Montana prioritized the fossil fuel industry over the environment and young people’s futures. Federal agencies are also starting to take notice, with the EPA recently creating the National Environmental Youth Advisory Council and eeBLUE working with NOAA on the Young Changemakers Fellowship.  

The Nurture Nature Center also recognizes the importance of adding youth to the climate change conversation. We are excited to host the 5th Annual Youth Climate Summit of the Lehigh Valley on April 19 and 20, 2024 at our center. Our summit is designed to give middle- and high-school students the chance to develop as climate leaders by collaborating with other students, exploring their own strengths and interests, speaking with experts and climate professionals, engaging in hands-on climate solutions activities, learning about sustainability and climate careers and developing related skills, and more. Stay on the lookout for more details as we develop the agenda (with youth help, of course)!