Encouraging high school youth to fight climate change is the goal of the Finger Lakes Youth Climate Summit, held at Hobart and William Smith Colleges on Wednesday, Oct. 30. The Summit is sponsored by HWS, the Finger Lakes Institute, Siemens, Wyckoff Family Foundation and the WILD Center. Fifteen teams from communities across the Finger Lakes, including Canandaigua, Geneva and Hammondsport, participated.
“The Summit aims to empower young adults with knowledge and actions they can take to combat climate change, support youth leadership and foster a sense of community here in the Finger Lakes for a sustainable future,” says Nadia Harvieux, education program manager for HWS’ Finger Lakes Institute (FLI). “This year’s event includes a special focus on our water resources and the science behind ensuring healthy aquatic ecosystems and supporting water security for the future.
The Summit theme, “Promoting Water Security Through Science for Society and the Environment” was chosen by FLI intern Britta Goncarovs ’21 to coincide with the HWS Year of Water and the FLI’s 15 year anniversary. “I chose to include society and environment because water security shouldn’t just be focused on society, as they both influence each other… I believe indulging in science can help us imagine a world where we don’t have to worry about the negative consequences of our actions, but rather we can apply a method and make a prediction with certainty that it will provide a positive outcome.” Goncarovs is double majoring in geoscience and biology and minoring in environmental studies.
At the Summit, area high schoolers attended mini-workshops on topics ranging from acid rain to the presence of microplastics in Cayuga Lake, taught by HWS students, faculty, alums and regional experts. One workshop was led by Amanda Bruha ’20, who helped found the Summit two years ago. Bruha was recognized with the 2019 Finger Lakes Youth Climate Summit Inspiration Award for her leadership.
Kristen Hychka, a postdoctoral associate with the New York State Water Resources Institute at Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, gave the keynote speech. “We’ll talk about some approaches to watershed management that attempt to promote climate smart practices while listening to and reflecting the priorities and concerns of local communities,” she says.
A highlight of the day will be the creation of Climate Action Plans (CAPs) by the students. These plans to tackle actionable projects in their schools and communities help students learn how to manage details and set realistic goals and timelines for their projects while gaining problem-solving skills.
“Students attending the Summit work with their team to come up with ideas for their CAP, which will likely be refined further when they go back to their own schools,” says Harvieux. “This year’s Summit also included a ‘Sharing Session’—a new component that allows students from different schools to exchange ideas, share past projects successes or, if the group is new to the summit, get advice and tips from other groups that have been involved in implementing CAPs over the past two years.”
“We hope students leave the summit feeling inspired by what they’ve learned and motivated to be climate change leaders in their community,” Harvieux says. Goncarovs shares “It was exciting to see these young people inspired and determined by their own ideas and understand their challenges in order to achieve success.”
Harvieux and Goncarovs will continue to work with high school teams throughout the school year as they implement their Climate Action Plans and launch projects to fight climate change in their communities.