Youth and Climate Justice Initiative

How often do our communities think about the world that your children, grandchildren, and even great-grandchildren will live in? It’s hard to picture the world in 50 years because we can’t even see how it will look in 5. The twenty-first century has accelerated change in technology, communications, and development. The rate of change in our society is quite frankly dizzying. Far too often, it is difficult to see past the lives of ourselves and those around us and understand the impact that we have on the future.

But the reality is, the burdens of future generations lie on our shoulders. We need to consider what we have and what will be left for those who will come afterwards. The world we act in today will be inherited by others, and it would do us well to remember that its resources are limited.  The Haudenosaunee principle of “seventh-generation planning” accounts for this- members of the confederacy use only what they need in order to make sure that the generations to come will have adequate access to the resources they need to live. WNYEA’s version of seventh-generation planning involves engaging and empowering those who will soon be dictating our world’s policies regarding future generations. The Youth and Climate Justice initiative is working on grassroots projects to ignite the fire of climate advocacy in Western New York.

In the last year, the Youth and Climate Justice fellows have done incredible work for climate advocacy in Western New York. They spoke on and facilitated panels at the Buffalo Humanities Festival in September 2017. Answering pre-written questions, they taught a room full of adults about the youth movement against climate change. Later in June 2018, they presided over a second panel and also independently led a workshop at the WNY Youth Climate Action Summit. They created interactive scenarios and each led small groups in order to teach and encourage young peers to stand up for their rights in communities which may play adversarial roles in the larger fight for climate justice. Their work emphasizes the importance of justice in environmental advocacy and acknowledges that far too often the people that are most affected by climate change have the fewest outlets to speak out against it. Their workshops and panels teach youth and adults alike skills that will help them act in these tense spaces and hopefully empower them to voice the concerns that are left out of the narrative. While the initiative is still too new to track its impact, we can be sure that the groundwork the fellows are laying right now will help build the movement for climate justice in Western New York.

The fellows were able to develop these skills not in spite of, but because of their young age. As Fellow Lucy Handman expresses, “we might be younger but we have a voice, and we totally deserve for it to be heard. You don’t have to wait until you’re a full-grown adult” to express your opinions and exercise your rights to civic engagement. Nina Adam, a youth fellow, says the fellowship has given her opportunities for public speaking and leadership training; she hopes that with these experiences she will be able to help the environment “be better than what it’s going to be in the future.” Along with her peers, Nina is empowered and motivated to look at the world’s future the way many of us are unable to. She knows that the work that she does today will impact the way we look at the futures of the coming generation. The work that the Youth and Climate Justice Initiative does to train and educate young people is having real impacts on the way students who will inherit this world think about such issues. In creating the change that they want to see, the youth fellows are empowering themselves and others to take charge of the world they will one day inherit.

Believe it or not, this project is still in its infancy- despite its many accomplishments thus far, the Youth and Climate Justice Initiative has only been running for two years. This means that its adult partners and youth fellows have many plans to expand its outreach and engagement.  So, what’s next for this group? What can we expect from the fellows in the coming year? Kelli Grabowski, an adult partner, hopes to incorporate a larger civic engagement component in the program, especially with an emphasis on marginalized, rural, and other underrepresented communities. As the initiative expands across Buffalo communities, she hopes that the students will have opportunity to “use each other as a network to make big changes” in environmental policy at local and even state levels. Through continued advocacy work, the youth fellows will continue to empower peers to affect change.

Far too often, young people do not have outlets to express their opinions on issues such as climate change. Environmental and climate studies are not explicitly woven into the school curriculums. Special conferences on youth and the environment are often expensive, exclusive, and inaccessible. The Youth and Climate Justice Initiative is born out of this community and aims to remain as such in order to provide reachable outlet and resource for students who are passionate about these issues. Returning to the principle of seventh-generation planning, we see how important it is to empower our current youth in order to affect real change tomorrow. As the Youth and Climate Justice Initiative begins its third year, its members hope to expand their influence, learn more about the issues that plague their communities, and bring environmental justice in Western New York.

Listen to the Stories of the Youth and Climate Justice Initiative:

Birch Kinsey, Youth Fellow

Gabe Cohen, Youth Fellow

Nina Adam, Youth Fellow

Lucy Handman, Youth Fellow

Skylar Moffett, Youth Fellow

Rebekah Williams

Emily Dyett, YCJ Coordinator

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