Supporting Youth to Take Action on Climate Change

Recently I learned of an initiative to support high school students in taking action on climate change. The man who brought the youth together had contacted the advisor of a local high school environmental club, asked to meet with the youth, apologized to them for leaving young people with this challenging situation (disastrous climate change), and showed his grief about it. Two young women had approached him and asked for his contact information. That had been the beginning of the group. It had been that simple!

The youth have met a couple of times and are forming a cohesive group. They are led by two young women, ages seventeen and eighteen. I have been getting to know them, offering my support, and guiding the elders who want to support them. At our last meeting I met separately with a small group of elders and asked them to share what had gone well and what had been hard about being an ally to young people. It was useful to strengthen our relationships with each other before rejoining the young people.


Things have progressed quickly! The students have already had remarkable success. The group has grown to include eight high schools. They’ve been meeting several times a week, including occasionally via teleconference. They are planning actions that have already gotten the attention of local media and politicians, and many young people are becoming interested.

I can’t remember the last time I was so inspired to attend a meeting! I am learning so much from the youth—including that my main role is simply to set things up and then get out of their way. Here are some ways I’ve been trying to help:

  • by “interrupting” older adults when they inadvertently take over the youth meetings by talking at length, and when they try to share “urgent” information and make their “urgent” issue something the youth should also be addressing
  • by modeling how to welcome newcomers to the group and encouraging the youth to use some of their meeting time for community building and relationship building, including with “pairs and shares”
  • by steering the youth to resources and initiatives, and then getting out of their way
  • by helping them think about connecting across schools, class, and race
  • by arranging a place for them to meet
  • by using my privilege to make contacts when they don’t get responses to their queries
  • by asking what they want (I still forget this simple step sometimes!)
  • by appreciating them and showing that I like them
  • by providing pizza and other snacks
  • by getting sessions with older adults about all the feelings these things bring up for me.

Brian Lavendel

Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Reprinted from the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders in
the care of the environment


Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:30:43+00