Youth Environmental Activists Strengthen Their Stand in the Climate Movement

Student leaders proved age is trivial when taking actions on environmental issues at the first-ever virtual Youth Environmental Summit.

During her appearance as a panel speaker at 2020 Youth Environmental Summit (YES 2020), Jamie Margolin, climate justice activist and founder of This is Zero Hour stated, “When you are a young climate activist, it can be hard for people to look past your age.” The energy and enthusiasm throughout the two-day virtual summit proved that age is trivial when it comes to the environmental movement.

At the inaugural Youth Environmental Summit, hosted online by National Audubon Society and the American Conservation Coalition Campus (ACCC), almost 100 young advocates across the political spectrum learned from and spoke with leading youth activists like Margolin, renowned climate scientists, and Congressional members at the forefront of bipartisan climate solutions. In addition to participating in panel discussions, student leaders engaged in intensive advocacy training, expanded their professional networks, and even took a virtual field trip to Alaska and Colombia.

Jenny Buchenot attended the summit both as a student leader and member of the YES 2020 planning committee. She joined the planning committee and attended the summit because she says she wanted to build upon her work and volunteer experiences with the Audubon Center for Birds of Prey, Audubon Florida’s Conservation Leadership Initiative, and her campus chapter, Knighthawk Audubon at University of Central Florida. Even though classes will be online for her fall semester, Bouchenot says the summit’s programming and training sessions gave her the confidence to influence her peers, lawmakers, and community.

“I walked away with organizational and public presentation skills, interviewing and moderating experiences, and more importantly, a clear vision on how to better engage my chapter and create environmental changes starting at the local policy level,” Buchenot says.

Students tuned into YES 2020 from twenty-six states including Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, North Carolina, and Texas. Audubon is working in partnership with the Walton Family Foundation in these areas and beyond to form campus chapters and establish relationships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and Minority Serving Institutes (MSI).

Joshua Bellamy is one of those of those change-makers looking to build upon his passion in conservation. As vice president of the Morehouse Moregreen campus chapter at Morehouse College, Clark Atlanta University, and Spellman College, Bellamy specializes in mobilizing his local community in conservation issues and advocating for a more diverse generation of activists. Throughout the ten-hour summit, Bellamy made sure to ask targeted questions to move the dial on climate issues.

“I came with a question: How do we really speak about climate to individuals who are hesitant to act on climate?” says Bellamy. “The answer I got is to use inclusive language. Don't just include what we think are issues, include what they believe are important issues as well. And just like that, we can have a whole holistic view of everything that we can tackle.”

Going forward Bellamy plans to use Morehouse Moregreen’s social media channels to make conservation a part of everyone’s reality and foster the kinds of conversations that will include even those who have been left out of the conversation in the past.

YES 2020 planning committee member Clay Robinson says he believes today’s youth advocates do not play partisan when it comes to climate issues. As the communication director for the Arizona Federation of College Republicans and one of the ACC campus activists at YES 2020, Robinson says the summit reminded him that the work starts with young people and their vision, a lesson he will also be taking back to campus in the coming months..

“Hearing from Congress members reminded me that the work that needs to be done is right in front of us, not in Washington,” says Robinson. “Planet Earth is our one and only home and if we don’t take the steps to achieve real solutions, we are putting our future in danger.”

All told, Bouchenot, Bellamy, and Robinson—and all of the participants of YES 2020—show that their place in the climate movement will not be measured solely by their age or political affiliation. As Audubon on Campus and ACC Campus plan to collaborate on future events, these three leaders are prepared—with the right tools and knowledge—to build a strong coalition of activists who are serious to take on climate issues.