The Youth Climate Summit: Environmental Action Beyond Campus | St. Lawrence University

The Youth Climate Summit: Environmental Action Beyond Campus

Emma Brandt

If you're like me, then some of your biggest concerns are our fossil fuel dependence, rising sea levels, deforestation, ocean acidification, and sustainability. To put it simply, the environment. Plenty of people are not like me and that's okay! There are so many big issues to get involved with. Thankfully I've found lots of people at St. Lawrence who are like me and who have helped me get involved with something I plan to make my life's work: environmental action.

As a first-year student, I spent most of my first semester looking for ways to get involved with environmental action on campus. This led me to join clubs like DivestSLU and Seed to Table. Oddly enough, the biggest environmental action I participated in that semester took place off campus at the Youth Climate Summit at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY. The Youth Climate Summit consisted of two days of workshops and presentations that provided high school and college students from the North Country with the tools to improve environmental consciousness and activism at their schools or campuses. The idea began in 2009 and has grown to 150 participants from 27 high schools and colleges.

I first heard of the Youth Climate Summit when I went to The Wild Center on a field trip with my First-Year Program (FYP). The Wild Center is a natural history museum about the Adirondacks boasting incredible exhibits with live animals and a LEED silver certification which designates it as an environmentally friendly and sustainable building. I knew I wanted to be there on November 3rd and 4th for the Youth Climate Summit but I didn't know if anyone else from SLU was interested. Through DivestSLU, I discovered that there was a small group of students going and I eagerly added my name to the list. Ultimately, four of us went both days, Zack Hallock '17, Bridget Benz '18, Iris Buchanan '18 and myself. Zack is the environmental chair on Thelmo, our student government, and he was the one who organized the group. Bridget is a senator on Thelmo and Iris is a part of Environmental Action Organization (EAO) and lives in the Green House, a theme house on campus. Each of us came from different parts of campus life but we all felt this was something worth our time. 

The Summit was a mix of plenary sessions and workshops. The plenary sessions included presentations by the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), The Climate Reality Project, and Mark and Kristin Kimball of Essex Farm. These sessions were both informative and interactive, each one motivating us further and broadening our ideas of what environmental action is. In between plenary sessions we could choose to go to one of five workshops. Our group members dispersed to cover as many as we could. One of the most interesting workshops I attended was presented by ACE and dealt with ways to organize and lead groups. We discussed different leadership structures for groups, methods for planning and achieving goals and organizational strategies. This was especially applicable for students because students have the time and the resources to pursue agendas like this. We already have clubs built into both high school and college life so learning these techniques to better achieve goals was very relevant. The most important part of the day was, of course, the meals! Breakfast, lunch and dinner were all as locally sourced as possible to cut down on food miles and support local agriculture. During meals, our group caught up and shared what we had learned from our workshops as well as discussed with other groups things that they were working on.

The most productive time of the Summit was the afternoon of the second day. Each group was given time to plan what they wanted to bring back to their school such as projects they want to implement. Since SLU already has certain clubs and groups dedicated to environmentally improving campus, we wanted to take a larger scale approach. We brainstormed and decided that it would be most effective if we could improve the overall campus awareness of environmental action. St. Lawrence already has the First-Year Program so we thought it would be the perfect place to add an emphasis on the environment. If first-year students received some sort of environmental education through the FYP then every new generation of SLU students would be more environmentally aware then the last. With a more environmentally conscious student body, it would be easier to pursue environmental agendas and take action on campus. Upon returning to SLU, we presented this idea to Thelmo and received a positive response. A second piece to our plan was to make it easier for environmental clubs, groups, and theme houses to share ideas, touch base, and work together. The environmental studies department owns a property called the Ecological Sustainability Landscape (ESL) and we got permission to have a meeting per semester there for all environmental groups. These meetings help us to facilitate conversation and make it possible to have larger events. So far, we have had two meetings and we plan to continue them into next year. With the addition of a new sustainability coordinator, we are all very excited to continue making St. Lawrence a more environmentally aware and active campus. 

This was an incredible experience, but how can others have this experience, too? As a tour guide, I am frequently asked how people get involved. I am the kind of person who loves to get involved but making that leap from a confused first-year to an active member of campus was intimidating. My biggest piece of advice would be to start at the Club Fair, held at the beginning of each semester. Clubs open doors - like DivestSLU did for me. I wouldn't have heard about the group going to the Summit if it weren't for DivestSLU. At St. Lawrence I have the time, the energy and the resources to make a difference and address something I care deeply about. I am at the perfect time in my life to be an activist and while at St. Lawrence, I know I have the opportunity to be one.