TUPPER LAKE - More than 160 students and staff members from 28 high schools and colleges gathered at the Wild Center Wednesday morning to get to work on reducing the impact humans are having on climate change.
They came from as far away as the Albany and Syracuse areas, as well as from across the North Country.
The fourth annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit kicked off with a speech from Brian Stilwell of the Alliance for Climate Education, a national organization based in California.
Students from across the North Country and beyond listen to presentations that kicked off the fourth annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit Wednesday at The Wild Center in Tupper Lake.
(Enterprise photo — Jessica Collier)
ACE generally works in urban areas so it can have the biggest impact possible, but Wild Center Director of Programs Jen Kretser said she worked to get Stilwell to the Adirondacks for the climate summit.
He gave a slick presentation on the problem of climate change and the impact students can have on it.
"You didn't start it, you don't want it, but it's you that's going to have to make the decision to stop it," Stilwell told the students packed into the Wild Center's Flammer Theater.
He talked about the number of dramatic storms and other weather events like droughts in recent years, and said those kinds of things are only going to happen more if humans don't reduce their reliance on carbon-producing energy methods.
While climate change may be a huge threat, it's also an opportunity for creativity and innovation, Stilwell said.
"This conference is a great launching pad for tons of awesome projects," he told the audience.
ACE was one of the new things on the docket this year for the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit. Another change was that the Wild Center recently installed a new tool that's helpful for telling the story of climate change.
Planet Adirondack is a large plastic sphere with images projected on it, usually a map of the world highlighting different data sets. Some of the data sets include projections for water levels and other impacts if climate change is to continue on the course it's on. Wild Center employees and Paul Smith's College professor Curt Stager gave presentations using Planet Adirondack.
There are also several other individuals and organizations helping out at in the summit for the first time, including Cornell Cooperative Extension and Jen Cirillo, who runs a sustainable schools project at Shelburne Farm.
Kretser planned to start today's programs with a Skype session with students who participated in a youth climate summit in Finland that was inspired by the one in Tupper Lake.
All kinds of students
Part of the challenge of this and coming years of the summit is keeping students interested and energized. That's difficult when the participating schools are all coming from different circumstances, in terms of green efforts.
"It's such a continuum, where schools are at," Kretser said.
Some students came for the first time and are just starting to think about their carbon footprint, while others have been there all three of the previous years and had been working on climate change efforts even before that.
So Kretser and other organizers are trying to find ways to help schools take the next big step beyond their first composting and recycling projects into making bigger changes.
But just giving students a space and time to think hard about their climate change projects and initiatives, and to network with other like-minded students has proved to be valuable over the years, Kretser said.
She is also looking for ways to better support the schools throughout the school year in between each summit. One way she's found is that the Wild Center is partnering with various green teams to bring Stilwell back in January for a week of presentations at many of the schools participating in the summit, so the whole school can gets Stilwell's message.
She noted that in some high schools like Tupper Lake and Colton-Pierrepont, student projects have successfully cut costs like energy and disposal spending. If that money can be invested into other green efforts, it could lead to even more substantial savings in the future, Kretser said.
Kretser said it's been a challenge to keep the summit free for schools to participate every year, so she's grateful to sponsors like Casella Waste Management, which has an information booth set up at the summit and is doing workshops on its Zero-Sort Recycling program.
Kretser said one of her goals for the future is to help schools defray the costs of traveling to the summit.
She also wants to try to find money to buy carbon offsets for the amount of carbon spent by schools traveling to Tupper Lake for the summit. Organizers try to coordinate as much as possible to help schools carpool and bus-pool, like Keene, Lake Placid and Saranac Lake did Wednesday. Two schools are also camping while they're in Tupper Lake rather than using hotels.
Organizers try to keep green efforts like that in mind as they plan the event each year. They set up composting stations, they try to use as much local food as possible, and they take back and reuse things like lanyards and folders at the end of the summit.
"Best part of my job"
Kretser said she looks forward to the Youth Climate Summit every year.
"The best part of my job is this event," Kretser said.
She likes to talk about the students who have participated over several years or who have siblings who also participated.
One girl, she said, attended the Youth Climate Summit while she was a student at Lake Placid High School, then when she attended Northwood School and then again with St. Lawrence University.
"I love working with these kids because you kind of see them come into their own," Kretser said.
The summit ends this afternoon. Much of it is streaming live online; a link can be found on the summit website, www.askyouthsummit.org.
Contact Jessica Collier at 891-2600 ext. 26 or firstname.lastname@example.org.