There is No Planet B

Robert Ballard is worried.

The renowned oceanographer, deep-sea explorer and discoverer of the Titanic reminded participants at The Tech for Global Good Youth Climate Action Summit (YCAS) on Nov. 10 that 95% of the human race lives on less than 5% of earth’s land. Global warming, he noted, is making that 5% even more uninhabitable.

Calling in to the inaugural Youth Climate Action Summit from the E/V Nautilus off the coast of Southern California, Dr. Ballard shared his concerns in a live teleconference, which kicked off the day-long event.

“I’m really worried about the human race. Are we going to survive?” he asked the 500 high school participants. “Our biggest challenge is, can we, the human race, become a friendly occupant of earth and not a hostile occupant?”

Answering that question was the focus of the YCAS, where enthusiastic students from across the Bay Area gathered at The Tech Museum of Innovation in downtown San Jose to learn how to attack climate change from all angles.

One of their biggest takeaways was learning that exploration and field work like Ballard’s — while critically important — is only part of the puzzle. Solving climate change also requires innovative approaches from engineers, journalists, lawyers and legislators.

Nicole Vaynblat, a ninth grader at Living Wisdom School in Palo Alto, was excited to hear about the technology that gives scientists in the field the data they need to work effectively: “In reality a lot of people are behind the scenes working on the sensors that track water levels and animals, and I find that really interesting. I don’t think people give enough credit to the people creating this technology.”

Diya Khandra of Ann Sobrato High School in Morgan Hill was equally inspired by a panel session she attended that featured professionals from multiple fields. “They’re making changes in their own way,” said the freshman, who is passionate about bringing clean technology to the United States. “There are so many people that are passionate about environmental issues … if we focus our energies and collaborate to better reduce global temps we can really affect environmental sustainability.”

Besides reassuring students that they could follow their passions and still effect change regarding environmental issues, the presenters and facilitators also reminded them that small acts add up to a larger movement.

“I hope that these teens learned that they have the power to change. They matter in the fight against climate change, both locally and globally.”

That was the primary goal of National Geographic in showcasing its Planet or Plastics program, which asked students to pledge to reduce their use of single-use plastics, such as utensils and straws. “We want these 500 amazing students to be involved, to be inspired and to see that they can make a difference,” said JT Hardin, manager of education leadership programs at National Geographic.

As dozens of students lined up to take the pledge, others waited in line to experience a virtual reality forum, an escape room, a UN negotiation simulation and a storytelling session. The wide variety of activities kept students buzzing all day with new information, but more importantly, new connections with other Bay Area teens who are as passionate about saving the earth as they are.

Those connections were a major goal for YCAS student board member Divya Nair, a Notre Dame High School junior. “I see people getting inspired all over the place!” she said. “I hope they leave with the idea that there’s a community that they can reach out to, join with and bond with in order to make roots and go out and be the change they wish to see in the world.”

Nair’s hopes were echoed by YCAS adviser Kavita Gupta, who was impressed to see so many students spend a Saturday educating themselves about climate change. “I hope that these teens learned that they have the power to change. They matter in the fight against climate change, both locally and globally. As one of the attendees said, the youth might be a small percentage of the overall population today, but they are going to be 100% of the future tomorrow.”

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If you’re interested in joining these teens to take collective action against climate change, visit campus.ecochallenge.org and choose YCAS 2018 as your campus after you sign up.