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Youth Climate Leadership: How Teenagers Are Changing the World for the Better

Chloe Whalen

     Over the past two years 114,000 people in the United States lost their jobs, homelessness increased by 15%, and approximately 777,000 people died (Our World in Data). The pandemic has hit us harder than anyone expected it to. Most notable are the teenagers of our society, who have lost formative time with their families, the ability to spend time with their friends, and their most significant years of high school. Revelations have resulted from a firsthand experience of a devastating international event; advocacy for topics such as police brutality, LGBTQIA+ rights, and environmentalism sparked from the seemingly endless time to, for lack of a better word, think. That endless amount of time fostered a renaissance of appreciation for the outdoors in forms such as family walks around the neighborhood, eating lunch outside in the backyard, and a place to safely reconnect with friends and family as means of escape. 

     COVID-19 is the battle at the forefront of our minds, but the true battle we’re fighting is with our planet and frankly, our beloved outdoors is running out of time. The changes to our youth’s homes grow gradually more extreme, as they see storms raging and their beaches eroding year after year. When growing up in an era where your environment is changing rapidly, it's inevitable that our youth will rise up and fight for change. 

     And Cape Cod Youth Climate Leadership (CCYCL) is providing the perfect outlet for exactly that. Their mission statement is as follows: to provide youth with resources and updates on climate change action in their communities, and to encourage civic engagement by making local government more accessible, with the overall goal of advancing a climate-related agenda and amplifying youth voices. 

     Our youth community is often belittled due to their lack of experience, and their voices become unheard by the rest of the world. By banding together and advocating for action, their combined voices are much stronger than one alone. CCYCL Advisor Morgan Peck notes, “In 2019, CCYCL organized and hosted a Youth Climate Leadership Summit in Harwich which was attended by over 100 high school students from across the Cape and Islands.” CCYCL planned and implemented the entire event, which focused on educational breakout sessions on an array of climate change topics led by experts in their fields. Those who attended this summit created groups surrounding their individual high school districts to directly address and solve climate issues. Peck is also a part of MassAudubon, whose mission is Protecting the Nature of Massachusetts, for people and for wildlife. She explains her feelings regarding climate change and how it is the biggest threat to humans and wildlife alike, crediting that threat with the fact that nature is viewed commercially. 

     The price tags we put on nature are destroying our planet with every passing day. CCYCL has discussed fast fashion, deforestation, and the effect of tourism on the environment. The cheaper and faster than corporations make clothes, the more people will want to buy them; however, it’s detrimental to the environment due to the number of greenhouse gases they release, as well as being unethical by forcing people into hard labor in which they make barely enough money to live. Additionally, tourism is one of the most profitable industries for coastal cities around the world, but its effect on our ocean life is getting increasingly worse by destroying our coral reefs. One additional point made by the students of CCYCL is the paradox of solar farms. The more people who convert to solar energy rather than electric means more people using sustainable energy; however, the more trees cut down in order to make space for solar farms means more negative effects on the environment.  

     This past year, CCYCL put a heavy focus on youth policy engagement. They held training on how to speak in open public forums and at Town Hall Meetings on various environmental-related policies and used social media to push attendance in young people for these topics. “The youth voice has been left out of this discussion for so long, leaving them without a say in shaping their future,” Peck adds. By guiding younger generations and providing them with the necessary information, they will have a stronger voice in decisions that directly affect their lives. 

     The main issue that CCYCL focused on when scanning town hall meeting agendas was the Municipal and Commercial Plastic Bottle Ban, which passed in 10/15 Cape Towns. Peck remarks, “Our short-term goals are to host a Cape-wide Youth Climate Action Summit annually, and our long-term goals are to implement a respective climate-based community action post-summit.” With each year, CCYCL encourages more and more students to get involved in climate advocacy by reaching out to teachers from various high schools on the Cape, informing them of their upcoming summits so they can pass the information on to their students and grow their community. 

     How you may ask, can a group of teenagers in Cape Cod make a difference nationally? Peck states, “As humans, we are a part of nature and its systems. Not a separate entity, or above it.” Humanity as a whole has come to see the planet as something they deserve, something they can extort for their benefit; this view of the world has passed down from generation to generation. Cape Cod Youth Climate Leadership is setting an example for the rest of the Cape, for the rest of Massachusetts, for the rest of the nation; these students and others across the globe are the people that will save our planet. By providing our youth with the essential knowledge of the climate crisis, it gives them the power to take their future into their own hands and continue making a difference with the generations that will secede them.  

Works Cited

NAEH. “New Report Shows Rise in Homelessness in Advance of COVID-19 Crisis.” National Alliance to End Homelessness, 18 Mar. 2021, endhomelessness.org/new-report-shows-rise-in-homelessness-in-advance-of-covid-19-crisis/.

Our World in Data. “Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) – the Data.” Our World in Data, 2021, ourworldindata.org/coronavirus-data.

Richter, Felix. “COVID-19 Has Caused a Huge Amount of Lost Working Hours.” World Economic Forum, 4 Feb. 2021, www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/02/covid-employment-global-job-loss/.