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YES conference provides hope and inspiration to climate activists

by Amy Jolly, The Climate Center

It was a packed house at the Youth for Environment and Sustainability Conference this year as 500 teens from across the Bay Area came together on February 25th at the Bay Area Metro Center in San Francisco. The conference – organized by Bay Area Air Quality Management District and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission – brings together high school and middle school students from the across the Bay Area to talk about climate change, transportation, and sustainability solutions. Eighteen students from Sonoma County attended the free event.

The Climate Center’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) presented a well-received “Climate Walk and Talk.” YAB members shared activities and strategies they use to engage peers and encouraged the 54 participants to do the same in their own communities. Tess Caldwell and Jasmine Jolly came loaded with postcards, stamps, and addresses to California legislators encouraging others to “claim their voice” in a letter writing campaign. Tenzing Sherpa, Solana Jolly, and Coral Utnehmer led a “Test Your Climate Knowledge” discussion. Annabelle Lampson and Madi Lee-Rosen led a gallery walk and discussion reflecting on 200 years of climate change events and milestones.

“It is a privilege to work with such driven and inspired students,” said Alina Huff, ECO2school Program Coordinator. “They are constantly coming up with new and interesting ideas to communicate messages about climate change. I learn as much from them as they do from me.”

Student participants from Sonoma County came home invigorated and fired up to take evermore impactful actions to address climate change. They are also better connected to one another and better poised to have meaningful impact. “It’s hard to wrap your mind around climate change,” says YAB member Alana Maken. “This makes you feel a part of something bigger than yourself.”

YAB member, Geena Mendoz, was the Master of Ceremonies for the Conference. She shared her climate message to, “not forget that the hottest 15 years on record have happened during the majority of our lives, and also to remember that the whole world looks to California not just for fashion, movies, music, but most importantly, for solutions.” She went on to highlight solar energy and transportation solutions that all originated here in the Bay Area. She closed saying, “Let us remember that our planet needs us just as much as we need it.”

When we connect youth with mentors and like-minded peers, a chemistry happens. It is powerful. Four years ago when the conference started there were only 100 students. This year the event was overflowing with 500 attendees and a wait list of over 200. Climate is the issue of the upcoming generation. They are engaged and impassioned. Adults need to find more ways to give youth a voice. Their messages are strong, authentic, and urgent. It is their future they are fighting for.