Orson Welles co-wrote, produced, directed, and starred in "Citizen Kane" when he was 26 years old. It's OK, all you folks in your mid- to late-20s, don't despair: it depresses me too. But I don't want you to feel bad for wasting your 20s, I really want you to realize you basically wasted your teen years as well. You have to hear about these 19 kids who didn't waste their youth like I did.
Kenyan teen's invention saves lions, helps farmers
13-year-old Kenyan inventor Richard Turere used broken LED flashlights to create a lighting system that tricks lions into thinking humans are patrolling the area, which is enough to keep the lions away, protecting his family's livestock (and their lives) and reducing risk of human-wildlife conflict. I once figured out how to work the S-O-S setting on my flashlight, impressing absolutely no one.
16-year-old creates wildlife tracker website
16-year old Nadav Ossendryver created Kruger Sightings, a wildlife tracker website that provides real-time animal sightings for Kruger National Park in South Africa. All I ever did was watch that classic Battle at Kruger video three times on YouTube and send the link to my friends with the subject line: WHOOOOOAAAA!
Teen finds way to decompose plastic bags
Photo: Heal the Bay/Flickr
Teen starts e-waste recycling business
Photo: Darryl Sleath/Shutterstock
Jason Li, a 15-year-old high school sophomore and his friends run the website iReTron.com where people can sell their old phones, laptops, game systems and many other gadgets and accessories to keep them out of the landfill. I still have a drawer of old chargers I can't seem to find time to deal with.
15-year-old skis to the top of the world
In "an effort to inform his generation of change makers about the Arctic's changing landscape," 15-year-old explorer, Parker Liautaud attempted to be one of the youngest people ever to ski the Last Degree of the North Pole. Planet Green interviewed Liautaud following the expedition.
Teen sues states to protect climate, declare atmosphere a public trust
Photo: sometimes silent e/Flickr
When I was young, I probably saw every episode of "Matlock" and "Columbo" reruns. Meanwhile, 16-year-old Alec Loorz actually used the real-life legal system to try and save the world for the benefit of all humanity. Where were my priorities?
11-year-old gives rousing TED talk on agriculture
Anything I write here will be stupid compared to what this kid has to say. So good. Watch it.
14-year-old turns a '72 VW Beetle into an electric car
With two years remaining before he could even get his license, 14-year-old Ashton Stark converted his grandfather's Volkswagen bug into an all-electric vehicle — and all for around $4,000. (This isn't the car, just a regular Bug.)
12-year-old starts recycling business, donates profits
After learning about the horrors of landfills, 12-year-old Sam Klein got to work reducing the amount of waste that ends up there. For the past few years, Klein has visited local businesses to collect empty printer cartridges, which he then returns to the manufacturer for recycling.
17-year-old builds 'brain' to detect breast cancer
“I taught the computer how to diagnose breast cancer,” Brittany Wenger told MSNBC, apparently not realizing what a crushing blow the comment would be to everyone everywhere who had wasted their youth. Check out her project at Google Science Fair.
10-year-old stops a mountain from being sold to China
After noticing some unusual new equipment near the Jarilla Mountains in New Mexico, 10-year-old Caitlyn Larson and her parents discovered a foreign company was planning to strip the mountain and send 6 million tons of ore to China. They rallied opposition and eventually helped the state of New Mexico realize that the new mining wasn't properly permitted, which has thus far saved the wildlife and vegetation that call the mountains home.
9-year-old's science fair project saves city thousands of gallons of water
Photo: Joe Shlabotnik/CC
Curious how he did it? It is simple, but effective.
6-year-old who beat cancer fights to save penguins
"In the hospital, I asked Aggie if he had a wish; if there was anything he wanted," says Aghelos' mother, Elizabeth Kouvaras. "He didn't want an X-box or a Playstation. He said he wanted to save penguins. 'What are we going to do without animals?' he asked. If they die, we will all die." That's heavy stuff, Aghelos.
13-year-old fights to save endangered parrots
Photo: Sirocco Kakapo/Facebook
Aaron Friedman has made it his mission to help preserve the critically endangered Kakapo parrots. "It might make a difference and at least I'll know that I've tried," says Aaron. Word.
Talented 11-year-old paints birds, raises more than $200,000 for Gulf Coast relief efforts
Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images
While most kids — and most adults — wrung their hands in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and wondered what we could do to make sure it didn't happen again, 11-year-old Olivia Bouler partnered with the Audubon Society to sell original sketches of the avian members most affected by the spill, and raised more than $200,000 for Gulf Coast relief efforts.
10-year-old pressures KFC to stop destroying forests
After getting McDonald's to switch to recycled packaging, Cole and some other friends decided to pressure KFC to stop cutting down endangered forests in North Carolina. It didn't work, but did you even try to help? Exactly.
14-year-old designs and builds windmill to generate electricity
William Kamkwamba of Malawi, Africa, had to drop out of school in 2002, but he continued educating himself by reading science books and eventually teaching himself how to design and build windmills to provide electricity for his family. We first wrote about William in 2006, but he's since gone on to even greater things, such as writing a book, building a windmill to pump water for crop irrigation, giving a TED Talk on his experiences and even making an appearance on The Daily Show.
10-year-old's petition prompts Jamba Juice to ditch Styrofoam
When I am handed a drink in a Styrofoam cup, I cringe, regret not having my own cup and probably go ahead and drink my smoothie. Not 10-year-old Mia Hansen. When she realized Jamba Juice was serving smoothies in Styrofoam cups, she started a petition, which eventually gained 130,000 signatures and prompted the company to change its cups to a more sustainable material. Thank you, Mia for helping us adults be less terrible.
12-year-old develops solar cell that absorbs 500 times the light of existing cells
Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Treehugger's Mat McDermott writes, "William Yuan, a 12-year old boy from Beaverton, Ore., has developed a new 3-D solar cell which if it ever gets commercialized could seriously change the face of solar power."
OK, I'll just stop there. We all know there are so many more super kids who have done incredible things that will just make us feel less accomplished. Now that we're sufficiently demoralized, let's go out and show these kids what adults with more money, education and power can accomplish! Let's show these kids who's boss!
Read about other innovators and fresh ideas at The Leaderboard. And if you have a story suggestion for the year-long project, please contact us and share your idea.
Related stories about teens on MNN:
- Teens Turning Green launches Project Green Challenge
- Teen convinces Seventeen magazine to stop Photoshopping models
This story was originally written for Treehugger. Copyright 2012.