More than 70 percent of teens and young adults polled in 2019 said that climate change will cause a moderate or great deal of harm to people in their generation. And more than 60 percent of them think that the federal government has failed to take effective action to combat the coming crisis. In order to empower more young people to engage their legislators and push for meaningful action on climate change, Audubon on Campus is partnering with the American Conservation Coalition Campus to present the Youth Environmental Summit 2020.

“I introduced the idea of YES 2020 to the National Audubon Society nearly a year ago,” says Benji Backer, president and founder of the American Conservation Coalition. “But the actual event idea came to fruition when the ACC Campus and National Audubon Society teams overwhelmingly agreed that youth voices needed a larger platform, stronger support, and better tools.”

To that end, YES 2020, which will be held online this year due to coronavirus, will provide trainings, skill-building, and networking opportunities to college students. And because both Audubon and ACC Campus engage students across the political spectrum, coalition-building and other partnership opportunities mean that attendees will collectively be able to reach more lawmakers in more districts, and work toward real-world solutions on climate change, than any single group could do alone.

Organizers say that part of the goal of the conference is to emphasize for younger generations that environmental issues are not partisan—progressives, conservatives, and centrists can all value the natural world and want to fight to preserve it.

“We're hoping for students to be exposed to the immense generational unity there is on environmental issues, be inspired to raise their voice even louder, and walk away with the tools to make a massive difference in 2020 and beyond,” says Backer.

YES 2020 will feature several publicly livestreamed events, which will be broadcast to the National Audubon Society's Facebook page. The plenary discussion “Conservation with Congressional Climate Leaders” features Senator Mike Braun (R-IN), Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). A series of strategy and skill-building workshops will focus on advocacy and organizing so that participants can effectively get their message out to both potential allies and lawmakers alike. And a panel discussion with youth leaders in the climate space on organizing and mobilizing their peers around a movement for meaningful climate solutions will feature Jamie Margolin of This is Zero Hour, Xiye Bastida of The Re-Earth Initiative, Vic J. Barrett of Earth Guardians and the Alliance for Climate Education, Danielle Butcher of the American Conservation Coalition, and moderated by Tykee James of Audubon and co-organizer of the first #BlackBirdersWeek.

The conference will also feature some events that are only available to registered participants, including as a speed-networking event where small groups of participants interact with a rotating lineup of event speakers like members of the youth climate activists panel and U.S. Representatives Deb Haaland (D-NM) and John Curtis (R-UT).

When conference organizer Heather Starck, vice president of grassroots capacity building at Audubon, was asked about which events of the conference she was most excited about, Starck says she is most looking forward to the session with the youth climate activists. “These young people have started their own organizations and organized tens of thousands of young people all over the world because they care deeply about climate and social justice,” says Starck.

“We're thrilled to have the top activists in the country joining us for this incredible event—and to have them feed off one another to create lifelong friendships,” adds Backer.

Are you a college student and curious about attending YES 2020? Or, would you like to tune into the publicly livestreamed sessions? To see what’s on the event agenda and how to sign up, please visit www.audubon.org/yes2020

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