We are young people and we will solve climate change

Gina Fiorile is a Delegate Speaker for the One Young World Environment Summit. Her work revolves around youth action and climate change. 

I am a part of the generation that will solve climate change.

Climate change is one of the greatest issues of our time. We have already begun to see an increase in natural disasters and variable weather patterns.  Leading scientists predict increases in global average temperatures and sea level rise. It is a global crisis that will threaten life as we know it. 

Despite all of this, there is hope. It is our job to now use the knowledge that we have regarding the impacts of climate change for motivation.  If we turn our concern into passion, we will have the motivation that will carry us through the fight for climate stability.

Leading this charge is youth.  When conversations surrounding climate change issues become heavy, the one mantra that remains with adults is always “youth give me hope”. No matter how severe climate predictions are, we are always looking to youth to take action on climate change and to be the leaders this planet has been waiting for. Every day, I learn more and more about the generation of leaders that I belong to. This generation of youth leaders is one of the most passionate and the most caring. These characteristics are what will carry us through the fight for climate stability.

My passion for climate education began in high school, where I became involved in an annual Youth Climate Summit Program that convenes youth to engage them in climate education and climate action planning. It was there that I first became passionate about climate change.  I listened to a renowned climate scientist speak about the impacts of climate change in the region that I lived, and I realized for the first time that this was not a far-off issue. I finally recognized that climate change was real, that it is happening now, and that it is a phenomenon that will affect me. Because of this experience, I believe that making climate change relevant to each individual on a personal level is ultimately the most effective way to communicate the science. 

Climate literacy education continues to be an urgent issue and this program format allows for informal science institutions such as science centers, zoos, aquariums and non-profits to join in the international effort. Youth Climate Summits have been found to be powerful vehicles for inspiration, learning, community engagement and youth leadership development. Climate literacy with a focus on local climate impacts and solutions is a key component of the Youth Climate Summit. The project-based learning surrounding the creation of a unique, student driven, sustainability and Climate Action Plan promotes leadership skills applicable and the tools necessary for a 21st Century workforce. 

Youth Climate Summits provide students with opportunities to develop their leadership skills and become active members of their communities. Climate education acts as a launching pad for students to pursue future careers in the environmental field and to gain necessary communication and problem-solving skills. It provides youth opportunities to become engaged in a movement that’s bigger than themselves.  My peers and I have grown to be not just the leaders of tomorrow, but the leaders of today. 

In 2014 the Youth Climate Summit Program was highlighted as a part of The White House’s Climate Education and Literacy Initiative. I volunteered my time in high school to help plan the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit and have interned with the Program for over a year. I was honored at The White House as a Champion of Change for Climate Education and Literacy and awarded an Environmental Merit Award by the EPA in 2015. Last December, I was a Youth Delegate at the UN’s historic Conference of Parties in Paris, and was selected to attend the signing ceremony for the UN Paris Agreement at the UN Headquarters on Earth Day of this year. 

The most important step that we can take following COP 21 and other successful international negotiations is to empower youth voice by convening and educating students everywhere. The Conference of Parties was key in drawing attention to the need for climate education and climate action among youth. The voice of youth and our collective message is gaining momentum as we gather and discuss our role in mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

It is important that we look to future generations as a source of hope in this time of change. Our greatest defense in this fight is an increase in climate literacy, so that future leaders are better prepared to catalyze positive change. In accepting our responsibility to educate future generations by utilizing all of the resources we have, the next generation will be more capable to combat this challenge.  They are a source of hope during this period of ecological and social change.