Monster hurricanes, scorching heat waves, adorable critters going extinct. Climate change — to put it bluntly — is a rather depressing topic. The manifestation of Homo sapien’s unrivaled ability to wreak havoc on our very home, global warming is an unpleasant reminder of human failings.
Despite the gloom that the subject usually casts, however, the young participants at the World Youth Climate Conference in Nayarit, Mexico, from June 13-16 proved that the future may not be so bleak. Part of the Youth Climate Conferences (YCC) and organized by the International Movement for Leisure Activities in Science and Technology (MILSET) and the Danish Youth Association for Science (UNF), this is the first worldwide event intended to give young people a voice on climate change. At the conference, the delegates ranging from age seven to 28 each proposed a solution for alleviating environmental consequences ranging from loss of biodiversity to medical issues. As one of two delegates from the United States, I had an insider's view on the innovative proposals of all the students as well as the ensuing debates leading up to an official youth accord to be presented at COP16 Cancun in December. Over the course of the conference, it became readily apparent that if the future lies in the hands of youth as passionate as these, a sustainable relationship with our planet can be forged.
One important facet of the conference was that the delegates all came from varying backgrounds and have unique perceptions of what is most crucial for conservation. Angel Olea, a young elected politician from the Dominican Republic contributed a political viewpoint while budding meteorologists Sol Paskvan and Lucas Gille from Argentina emphasized the importance of scientific research to the contribution of plans for effective conservation. Hailing from Namibia, where environmental education is as of yet underdeveloped, student Kieran Hayward has plans to institute a grassroots outreach and education program based on the international ideas he collects during the conference. Yet despite all these differences, we were able to work together as a group and incorporate our main concerns into one unified youth accord that truly reflects the world as a whole.
The ideas from all the corners of the globe revealed a mosaic of concerns and solutions, and proposed solutions for some of the direst environmental problems. Despite her young age, 11-year-old Guatemalan Andrea Nava already exhibits a disarming maturity and awareness for the possibilities in empowering youth. Through her campaign "Ponle Nombre a Un Arbol" or "Give a Tree a Name," Andrea mobilizes children in reforestation efforts. In addition to the immediate benefit of each planted tree's carbon offset, Andrea is also encouraging the participants to become involved with and aware of environmental issues from an early age.
Luis Dibene from Mexico tackled not only a method to save energy but also a way to for families to benefit financially. He proposes that by growing produce on the roofs of houses, a natural cooling mechanism is provided, which can reduce cooling loads for a building by 50-90 percent. Moreover, these "rooftop farms" provide a source of organic produce for the families even in the typically barren cityscape. The true genius of this project is that it counters many of the financial roadblocks that prevent people from investing in a greener future.
My own proposal focused on the use of phylogenetics through DNA analysis to determine which species are most genetically distinct and should be conserved first. The main theme of my project was echoed throughout the conference: we need to take action now. Rather than complaining about the lack of funds, we should instead use what funds we have in the most effective way and in the meantime continue working for more funding. We no longer have the time to sit in idleness as the environment suffers around us.
Which leads to the most important part of the entire conference: what will occur after it. All the delegates have returned to their respective countries after a thought-provoking week together, but what matters is not what was discussed during roundtable discussions or promised from the podium. What truly matters is what each of us will do. It is action that will leave the mark, and truly show that we, as youth, will not just inherit the future but work to make it supersede the present. And starting with the COP16, our voices will be heard.
Photo: Bonnie Lei