Thursday, March 10, 2011

Youth climate forum engaging for students

Written for my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner

Popular media paint today's teens as self-absorbed, apathetic, or disengaged.

But last month's Youth Forum on Climate Change at Bear Creek Secondary School proved those stereotypes wrong. The youth I saw were interested, engaged and filled with a passion for positive action to make our world a better place.

The event was hosted by science teacher Marty Lancaster, who also facilitates Bear Creek's Apollo Project, where students buy and install solar panels at the school to earn money for more panels or other environmental projects.

Through my Green Party connections, I brought two top-notch speakers to meet the large, enthusiastic group and draw out their ideas. Billed as 'a teen activist and a former teen activist', they were climate project presenter Corrina Serda, and Canadian writer Elizabeth May.

Serda is a second-generation climate presenter. Following in her mother Victoria's footsteps, she became the youngest officially trained presenter at age 11, and has twice since attended advanced training in Nashville directly from former vice-president Al Gore.

Now 14, she has presented more than 150 times to a total of more than 35,000 people, making her one of the top-10 climate project presenters worldwide. Last year, Ontario's Lieutenant General recognized her with the Junior Citizen of the Year Award.

Herself a young teen, Corrina's example of action and results helps galvanize young audiences like those at Bear Creek, demonstrating they, too, can make a difference.

Our second speaker, Elizabeth May, shares a similar background.

She also began environmental activism before her teenage years, and over the following four decades has seen huge positive results. Environmental lawyer, policy advisor in Mulroney's environment ministry, founder of Sierra Club Canada, she has shepherded many initiatives, including the reduction of acid rain and the Montreal Protocol to save the ozone layer.

The author of seven books, including Global Warming for Dummies, for her efforts and successes May was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. She shared much experience about how to influence policymakers.

After learning from the climate action experts, the students broke into groups to devise projects and events they could enact at their school to reduce ecological impact.

After more than a decade away from the classroom, I loved working with students face-to-face again. I was impressed by the breadth and depth of their knowledge and ideas, and their willingness to break out of old ways and showcase something better.

Between Earth Hour (March 26) and Earth Day (April 22), Bear Creek Secondary School programs an entire month of environment- themed activities.

I fully expect some of the ideas developed at this Youth Climate Forum to be put into action by the participants, and look forward to attending their amazing events.

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Elizabeth May was not only in Barrie to speak at the school, but also to make dinner for us. Why? Because last summer the Green Party of Canada had a national membership recruitement contest, and Barrie won the grand prize - a home-cooked meal from our leader! This is another exciting sign that Green Party strength continues to grow in Barrie!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is an educator, father, volunteer, and politician.

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