Caroline Skwara, a Cincinnati high school senior, is passionate about climate change. As the current state lead for the Ohio Youth Climate Strike, she has been organizing the next U.S. Youth Climate Strike since November 2019. “The strikes are not over yet,” she says. In fact, throughout the U.S., youth involvement in climate change is just getting started, and Skwara is only one example of their commitment.
In the last year, Skwara joined thousands of other teens who are raising the specter of climate change. With the recent series of climate marches, young people are demonstrating the world’s lack of action on climate change and encouraging engagement. And though they are acting, they are scared, too. After all, it is their future.
A recent Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that most teens surveyed said that they were afraid, angry and felt helpless in the face of what 97% of all climate scientists are now telling us. Climate change will forever change their world — not our world, but their world. The good news: Like Skwara, teens are doing something about it.
Iowa State University’s Kathryn Stevenson, author of the study “Children can foster climate change concern among their parents,” found that children can be influencers when it comes to climate change. They can even change their parents’ and other’s minds.
“I think that kids are wanting to be more activist and are trying to figure out how to contribute,” Stevenson says.
Plus, youth today are more solution–oriented, says Tony Staubach, extension educator for Ohio State University’s Climate Change Team. “They want to be part of the solution and are trying to figure out how they can make changes in their lives that will make the environment better and stronger.”
So, Ohio teens are branching out, creating ambassadors for climate change. According to Skwara, Ohio Climate Strike is developing a school ambassador program for high schools across Ohio. This program will empower students to fight for climate justice in their high school and community, Skwara says.
Though climate change is a big problem, sometimes figuring out how to get involved can be overwhelming. So, teens need to keep in mind that change happens one person at a time, Staubach says, and that they can make their own personal environmental decisions.
And they are doing just that. At school and their communities, teens are leading recycling efforts, efforts to reduce cafeteria food waste or waste in supplies used at their schools, or even introducing vehicle idling programs to reduce emissions in school parking lots. They are walking and biking instead of driving. Or reusing items, or blogging and sharing what they are doing to improve the environment. They are also talking to legislators and sharing their concerns. It’s incredibly heartening, Skwara says, to see the number of students who are interested in being involved in their community or in a cause they care about.
So how can parents encourage their teens when they have strong views on climate change? A good beginning is getting educated about the facts on climate change, through reputable websites such as NASA’s Global Climate Change site: climate.nasa.gov
Parents can also listen when their teen talks to them about their concerns about climate change, remembering that their teen may be feeling emotional about what’s happening. Often when their children are passionate about something, parents will try to learn more, Staubach says.
For teens who want to be part of making changes, environmental volunteerism like Youth Climate Strike (youthclimatestrikeus.org/ohio) and other environmental organizations are great ways to get involved. They can even start their own groups to promote change.
“I’m encouraging my peers to take action,” Skwara says, “just as I have.”