Published on May 16, 2019

Q&A with Youth Climate Summit Student Leadership Committee

Students working on Action Plans at 2018 Youth Climate Summit © Phil Doyle
© Phil Doyle

Felix Neck has been working with the Protect Your Environment (PYE) clubs at the Public Charter School and the Regional High School to plan our first Youth Climate Summit, scheduled for May 24. The event just so happens to coincide with the second global climate strike—what an appropriate way to be spending the day!

Students in grades 5-12 will gather at the sanctuary for a full day of climate literacy, education, and communication. They will learn from one another, as well as community members, about actions they can take in their own lives and communities that will make a positive difference. The goal is to empower students to become climate leaders and be moved to immediate and long term civic engagement.

We recently spoke with students from our Climate Summit Leadership team to learn a little more about the planning process. Read on to find out what Emily Gazzaniga (age 17); Owen Favreau (age 17); and Aiden Donovan (age 18) had to say!

What inspired you to start taking action against climate change?

Aiden: The inefficiency of our systems really bothered me: how we manage resources, the decline of our planet…it just feels really wrong, so the obvious thing felt like we should all be more sustainable.

Emily: It wasn’t one thing, but an accumulation of things, news, media, and things becoming a reality…I realized that I can make a small difference in my community. I became aware of how dire our situation was [and that] drew me to get involved.

Owen: I have always been interested in Environmental Science. And had a philosophy that learning by doing was the best way to learn. I attended the Mountain School and we did a lot of projects on making things more efficient and sustainable, which helped me realize I can help with local issues.

What got you excited about the idea of a Youth Summit on Climate Change?

Emily: I am kind of a go-getter and when Josey Kirkland [Felix Neck Education Coordinator] came into the classroom and introduced this project I was so excited. I have become so involved in climate activism so to be able to plan and lead a whole day around climate change is really exciting. And to be able to educate other students at my high school is so necessary.

Owen: Emily actually engaged me and I am really happy to be a part of this now. The fact that we get to talk to kids as young as middle school about climate change seems like such a good opportunity.

Aiden: Some of the most important people we can reach and impact with this knowledge are youth, we are still the future, so it’s good to have this event to instill a sense of responsibility for the environment. Also, with the younger kids coming they look up to us, so we can be leaders.

Has your "youthfulness" helped or hurt your process in any way? How so?

Owen: Being young I still have this sense of naivety that I can change the world. I am hoping that will be true! But I haven’t really experienced the world as much as I’d like to yet, but by participating in this I will learn. I am glad that I am young and have this idea [to change the world] will hopefully make it happen.

Emily: I think it’s been helpful in motivating my age group. A lot of my peers are motivated by one another, so I love it for that reason. But I also feel like younger people have less of a voice, but I think that is changing.

What has been your biggest lesson so far?

Emily: I read a book called But Will the Planet Notice? which basically said you alone will not make a difference. It was an interesting take, because I always believed that doing small things do make a difference. I found that frustrating, because I feel like little things do make a difference and those little things can spread.

Owen: The biggest thing I have learned is there is a difference between learning and advocacy. I learn a lot of information in the classroom, but learning how to take action is different.

What do you want participants to walk away with after attending the event?

Aiden: I hope that they will want to get more involved in more climate change awareness. Either just talking about it with their families, or getting more actively involved. I am happy at whatever the students take away, big or small.

Owen: I want it to be an earworm so that it gets in their heads that they can make a difference. And even if they aren’t super interested in the issue they at least learn that it is an issue, instead of not knowing!

What do you hope to show or demonstrate to the community by putting this event on?

Emily: I think students will be attending for a number of reasons-because they’re interested, because they get to skip class… but they end up coming and getting a new perspective and learning about things that will affect them in 10-20 years. I think that will have a big impact on people’s mentality and make it a reality for those students. So, the community will benefit majorly from that information load.

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