It's good we have teenagers thinking about climate change and taking steps to be more efficient and less wasteful - taking responsibility for what they use and don't use. Their generation, far more than that of their parents and grandparents, is responding to this global threat with action.
The fourth annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit had its share of fun and games, like any gathering of teens, but the practicality and initiative these young men and women demonstrate is impressive, even awe-inspiring. If you haven't read reporter Jessica Collier's articles on the two-day summit this week, go back and do so - especially Friday's article with the list of local school groups' projects and goals. Over the last three years, students who attended this summit at Tupper Lake's Wild Center museum have devised plans to make their schools and communities more energy-efficient and resource-aware, implemented many of those things - such as improved recycling, composting, gardening, local food and information campaigns - and challenged themselves to build on their efforts. Other schools share their ideas and the results of their projects, helping each other but challenging each other, too. Now that the list of participating schools has expanded to 28 - from as far away as the Albany and Syracuse areas, plus all over the North Country - we figure the students from first-time schools must be in awe of what those like those from the Tri-Lakes area have done.
There are many examples, but here's a recent and typical one: It was students' research and recommendation that prompted the Lake Placid school board to switch to Casella's Zero-Sort Recycling this fall; the move is expected save the district thousands of dollars a year, ensure far more items get recycled and put less of a burden on custodial staff.
The 160 students who participated in this year's Climate Summit aren't just learning how to make the world a better place; they're actually making it so - in small, local ways instead of sweeping national ones. Instead of lobbying leaders to make sweeping changes, these kids are setting an example for them. They're also reinforcing sensible, responsible patterns of behavior in the general populace. It's grassroots rather than trickle-down change.
They're also sinking time and energy into their communities in practical ways that save money for taxpayers. Maybe this investment will prompt these kids to stay in their hometowns as adults. Even if not, it's likely to make them better community members wherever they end up.
There are a fair number of people who still aren't so sure whether the planet is warming, or if so, whether it's caused by people burning fossil fuels. Fair enough, but at least think about this: Even if it's not true, if the vast majority of climate scientists are wrong, the small, local actions these students are taking will help our schools use our tax dollars more efficiently, help our students be more healthy and prompt at least one generation of kids to think pragmatically and critically about what they use and where it comes from. All of that is valuable.
And if human-caused climate change is real, which it probably is, it's a crisis we're shrugging off. To prevent effects like oceans flooding coastal areas and our northern forests coming to resemble southern ones would require overhauling our Western way of life. Otherwise, living with those effects would be a pretty radical shift, too. Such a future is being imagined in books like Bill McKibben's "Eaarth" and this year's award-winning movie, "Beasts of the Southern Wild."
In our view, no one has summed it up better than Time magazine's Michael Grunwald in his Nov. 7 column, "Sandy Ends the Silence," which we think is worth quoting at longer-than-normal length:
"There are still a few Lance Armstrong deniers who don't accept the overwhelming evidence that he used performance-enhancing drugs. And even rational people can't say for sure that doping was the reason he won any particular Tour de France; it's at least possible that he could have won some of those races clean. But it's no longer controversial to suggest that performance-enhancing drugs had something to do with his victories. They do, after all, enhance performance.
"There ought to be a similar consensus that global warming had something to do with Hurricane Sandy. The science of climate change is even more overwhelming than the case against Armstrong, and while the links to extreme weather are more complex, warmer seas and warmer air do produce nastier storms. To paraphrase Grist eco-journalist David Roberts, aging may not be the precise cause of your aching knee, but that kind of thing happens when you age. Hurricane Sandy - like this year's historic heat waves, droughts and wildfires in the U.S., not to mention an unprecedented ice melt in the Arctic - is the kind of thing that happens when you broil the planet with fossil fuels."