Six years ago, Elise Pierson ’24 attended a youth climate change summit that empowered her to take action in her hometown. Now, she has added participating in the United Nations global climate conference.
As part of the Youth Climate Change Program, offered by The Wild Center in Tupper Lake, N.Y., Elise and a delegation of youth climate leaders recently traveled to Glasgow, Scotland, to participate in the United Nations global climate conference, Conference of the Parties (COP26) and Conference of the Youth (COY16) which brings together world leaders to discuss solutions to environmental issues.
Elise, who has attended several youth climate summits across New York State, says the environmental justice discussions she’s had at St. Lawrence prepared her to think critically about the topics at the conference.
“Two classes that really helped me prepare for COP26 were Race, Class, and Environmental Justice with Sociology professor Erica Morrell and Politics and Social Issues with Government professor Precious Hall,” said Elise. “Through COVID and the restrictions it has placed on travel, the existing and historic inequalities in race, ability, sex, and socio-economic level have been even more apparent. Because of COVID, this year a very large proportion of delegates are white, from rich countries. I have also been able to draw more connections to many of the issues discussed, like drinking water access, Indigenous communities' rights, and agriculture.”
Elise’s passion for protecting the environment began when she co-coordinated the Green Market, a farmer's market and educational event inspired by a Saratoga Youth Climate Summit she attended during high school.
“When I was there I got my first taste of why climate change action is important because I was hearing from speakers who shared a broad view of climate change effects with us– problems with agricultural systems, how people in the poorest countries and youth are being impacted the most, and what youth could do about it,“ said Elise.
As she connected with delegates from around the globe at COP26, spoke on a panel about youth impact through local and global connections, and co-presented her climate action and youth engagement work with The Wild Center, Elise shared her experience on The Wild Center blog, Dispatches from Scotland.
She says that her biggest takeaway from the summit is that she has solidified her passion for environmental justice.
“In Scotland, I've learned that I am really passionate about going into the environmental justice field. While I've always been interested in the environment and the effects it has had on people, I never saw myself as actually having a job in that area,” said Elise. “I can definitely say that I won't be going into international politics because I like interacting with grassroots organizations and activists who are doing solid work, but international work is very slow-moving. I found grassroots organizations really inspiring, and I hope to continue my work with them after high school.”
Elise Pierson is from Wilmington, N.Y., and attended Lake Placid High School. She is a member of St. Lawrence University’s Class of 2024 and intends to declare an environmental studies-sociology combined major and minor in both French and government. Elise is Communications Coordinator for the Lake Placid Climate Smart Communities Committee.