If you think kids only care about computer gaming and the latest mobile phones, think again. The extraordinary winners of Action For Nature’s 2009 International Young Eco-Hero Award from ages 8 to 16 have conducted groundbreaking science experiments, changed legislation, written books, hobnobbed with leaders of the slow food movement, and more.  Here's a look at the winners in the Teen Eco-Hero category:

Otana Jakpor of Riverside, Calif. (Age 15)

In the seventh grade, Otana Jakpor read an article in Consumer Reports about potentially harmful levels of ozone, or smog, emitted by common air purifiers. Over the next two years, Otana designed, coordinated, and implemented eight experiments to test the impact of these machines on human health. Her results were alarming. Some purifiers, she found, emitted levels equal to Stage 3 smog alerts.

When Otana shared her findings with CARB (California Air Resources Board), they invited her to testify at a hearing that included lawyers from ozone generating manufacturers. When she finished her presentation, some of the people with opposing testimony withdrew. Regulations were put into place and California is now the first state to regulate ozone generators.

Otana went on to be awarded the President’s Environmental Youth Award and has met with senators and the head of the EPA. She is now a volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association and will have her study published in the journal of the American Thoracic Society.

Adarsha Shivakumar and Apoorva Rangan of Pleasant Hill, Calif. (Ages 14 and 15, respectively)

Adarsha Shivakumar and Apoorva Rangan are San Francisco Bay area siblings and often go to visit their grandparents who live on a farm near Hunsur in southern India. Most villagers in the area grow tobacco and in order to cure the leaves, they must burn large quantities of wood to fire their kilns. Having little firewood, they turn to the agents who illegally sell them firewood by cutting down trees from the local National Park, a large and pristine wildlife sanctuary which is also a home to a large variety of wildlife, including Asian elephant and tiger.

Adarsha and Apoorva realized that if the farmers continued to farm tobacco, the forest and its biodiversity would disappear, but they also understood that the farmers couldn't abandon the crop, their only means of survival.

The two young people learned about an NGO called Parivarthana that was working with the rural poor to teach them sustainable agriculture. They also discovered a plant biotechnology company in the region called Labland Biotech that was cultivating species like Jatropha curcas. This drought resistant plant, native to Central America, can grow in an arid environment, and produces seeds that are about 34% oil and that can be processed to create high grade fuel.

Adarsha and Apoorva convinced the two organizations to collaborate on a pilot project, called Project Jatropha, to help the farmers convert to biofuel crops. The brother and sister now have farmers in two villages growing Jatropha and selling the seeds to Labland Biotech to be converted into biofuel.

Sam Levin of New Marlborough, Mass. (Age 15)

As a high school freshman, Sam and his friends prevailed with school officials and raised the money to transform 3,500 square feet into an open-air garden classroom. In its first year, it produced 1,000 pounds of organic produce, which was used in five trial school lunch programs and also distributed to needy families in the region. His long-term goal for what he calls Project Sprout is to provide all the vegetables for all of the school cafeterias in the district.

When Sam spoke in San Francisco at the closing ceremonies of Slow Food Nation, a gathering of the world’s foremost advocates for marrying the pleasures of food with a commitment to community and the environment, he was an instant sensation. Alice Waters told one reporter that Sam was the highlight of the gathering. In Italy, Sam took up that banner of youth leadership in Terra Madre when he addressed a crowd of 8,000, saying, “We will be the generation that will reconcile people and the land.”

Photos courtesy of Action for Nature

Teen eco-heroes take care of business
Action for Nation announces its 2009 Interntaional Young Eco-Hero Awards.