Climate Champions: How Leaders of All Ages Can Inspire Each Other to Action

Climate ChampionsYou might say climate change awareness runs in my family. Last March, I secured an official excused absence for my then 12-year-old son, Colter, to swap his classroom for a convention center, convinced my sister to travel to California to serve as his chaperone so I could focus on facilitating sessions and advisory council work, and packed us up to head west for the Green Schools National Network’s 5th annual conference and Student Summit.
 
Fast forward less than a year later, and I was the one tagging along as Colter’s chaperone. Last weekend a Presidential-seal-embossed email (that I almost mistook for spam) arrived, inviting Colter to participate in a youth voices roundtable at the White House Champions of Change event on February 9. This program celebrates national leaders helping to increase understanding and awareness about climate change in K-12 classrooms, on college and university campuses, and in parks and museums across the country.
 
It turns out the logistical acrobatics it took to get Colter to that Student Summit sparked huge returns, inspiring him to start up his school’s first-ever environmental club and recruit others to join. Now here he was taking part in a panel discussion about climate at the White House. As ecoAmerica gears up for its 2015 Path to Positive MomentUs Leadership Summit this May to bring together its own group of climate champions, it was poignant to hear my son respond to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy’s question, “What makes you optimistic about the future when it comes to climate change?”
 
Colter replied (and yes, I was taking notes), “Everyone likes to talk about the idea that our generation is the one that really has to deal with climate change and become leaders to solve its challenges. But luckily, we have a lot of older leaders who have been working on this a long time, who know a lot, who still care, and who are here to help us figure it out. I wouldn’t be optimistic if I believed the talk that climate change is ‘our’ challenge. That’s way too lonely and scary. There are real leaders who know more than me, and who don’t think it’s all ‘gloomsday’ for us kids. Their confidence makes me feel confident that it’s still worth it to try.”
 
It turns out leaders of all ages need other leaders to share their success stories and to focus on the possibility of solutions as a way to bring forward the best and brightest ideas and people who will champion them. I know for Colter and all the other leaders, young and older, in attendance, the event was an incredibly inspiring experience that will not be forgotten. I also know that sometimes leading the way – especially on an issue like climate change and the environment – can get lonely and tricky. As Director of ecoAmerica’s Climate for Health program, I am honored to work with health leaders across the country who are standing on the edge and leaning forward in their field, while also reaching back to help us all understand how we can be optimistic about reaping the health benefits of climate solutions. I think they might find a lot to relate to in Colter’s essay, “Starting Lonely, Growing Boldly,” which I revisited when thinking about how deeply he wants to look forward to a positive future, be a part of making it happen, and have plenty of company along the way.

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