Port Holds LI’s First Youth Climate Summit

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Students take a fresh look at the environmental impact of eating more vegetables and less meat.

Residents Forward, formerly Residents for a More Beautiful Port Washington, whose mission is to advance “the critical projects that make the Port Washington peninsula beautiful, sustainable and resilient,” held Long Island’s first Youth Climate Summit at the Port Washington Public Library on April 28. One hundred students in grades eight through 12 had the opportunity to listen and learn about three specific factors that contribute to climate change including water, food and waste, and later in the day, students chose climate action projects pertaining to one of the areas they wanted to work on changing.

“Today Port Washington joins Finland, India, Latin America, Seattle, the Adirondacks, Vermont and Detroit in hosting a Youth Climate Summit,” said Residents Forward board member Douglas Marshall. “Why? Because we know that climate change is one of the biggest threats to our planet and we hope you will all do a better job than our generation.”

The day began with a speech about climate change at a global level from keynote speaker Dr. John Byrne, who is president of the Foundation for Renewable Energy and Environment and a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize award winner. While explaining the causes of climate change along with what has been done in the past on a global scale to combat it, Byrne stated that today, more is being done at the community level.

“I think the community base is really what’s important,” said Byrne. “This is an opportunity. You could say, ‘ugh, what a time to have landed on earth and deal with this problem,’ but it’s also an opportunity for you. You are going to have the ability to make change. Big change. Transformative change. From what I’ve seen of this generation so far, you guys are interested in making change, so I think the kind of things going on lately in a set of issues indicate that there is an interest here. I am encouraged by the prospect that the future is in your hands.”

Students explored two workshops throughout the day from either food, waste, water or careers and education. In the waste workshop, local waste champion Susan Goldman discussed how consumer culture and the material economy can act as drivers of climate change. The speakers gave examples of climate action projects students could partake in, including waste-free weeks in which students say “no” to straws on day one and plastic water bottles on day two, community or school events such as “swap meets” or “regifting parties,” and a restaurant or bar challenge that gets local establishments to stop using plastic straws.

“I learned a lot about what I can personally do for the environment and how making a difference in my lifestyle can change a lot more than I thought,” said student Maddy Wiener.

In the food workshop, certified plant-based nutrition educator Laurie Courage led a discussion about how food contributes to climate change and explained that if people were to eat less meat and more locally grown veggies, it would “take a bite out of climate change.”

“I thought food was interesting because I didn’t think that food had that big of an impact on the carbon emissions,” said student Michael Hayes. “So for people to adopt more Mediterranean or vegetarian style diets, it would decrease the carbon emissions. I think climate change is a common issue today and it’s very important that we fix this for the next generation.”

At the water workshop, J.M. Kostallas, founder of Kostal Paddle, discussed the water that surrounds Port Washington and how the community can work together to bring the water back to good health. Ryan Ehrhart, a full-time lecturer for the environmental studies program at Adelphi, moderated a discussion with Jodi Feld, chief scientist at NY State Office of the Attorney, Jon Reeves, cofounder TAD Associates and Jeff Gitterman, cofounder of Gitterman Wealth Management, about their careers from design and architecture to law and renewable energy.

“I went to the careers and education workshop so I learned about instead of what you can do with your lifestyle now, what you can do in the future which I think is super important because I’m going to college,” said student Idell Rutman.

At the end of the day, the students gathered in the Lapham meeting room to discuss which projects they wanted to undertake over the course of the next year and received certificates for their participation.

“I think that it’s amazing we were able to pull off such a big event and have all of these kids come and be part of it, talk, hear about the issues, make the solutions and really start change at a community level,” said Max Goldman, a student who helped provide outreach for the event. “That’s one of the only things we can do right now. When the government doesn’t show up, we do. I plan on working with one of the CAP projects, whatever that be, and just continue my education, learning about the issues we face as a society and taking action.”

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