Prove your humanity

More than a hundred teens gathered recently for the Pittsburgh Youth Climate Action Summit at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. Sarada Sangameswaran is the Director of School programs at Communitopia, a climate education nonprofit that organized the event with student volunteers. She said the main goal is to get kids to meet each other.

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“A lot of students are in their sustainability club or their environmental club at their schools, but they don’t always meet people from other places who are doing the work,” Sangameswaran said. “So we really want an exchange of ideas. We want students to be inspired and really to kind of feel like they’re not alone.” 

Students from area high schools brainstormed climate action plans, gave presentations, interviewed a business leader about sustainability and solar panels, and networked with one another and organizations tabling at the event.

A 2021 study of 10,000 young people in 10 countries found 59 percent were very or extremely worried about climate change, and 84 percent were at least moderately worried.

Shayla Esquivel,19, a student at the Environmental Charter School, and an organizer of the summit, said that climate change brings up feelings of sadness for her, but also hope. She was born in Mexico City, which she said is choked with pollution and where she doesn’t hear people talk much about climate change.

“It just makes me feel kind of sad in a way, to know that my motherland is not in its best state at the moment because of us,” Esquivel said. “I feel like me coming here [to the summit] brings me hope and a bit of joy that I am able to talk about this, and I’m able to also talk to people from my nationality and to inspire them, talk to them, and make them feel how I feel.”

Esquivel said she’s confident we have the tools to turn the climate crisis around. That’s a sentiment that was echoed by 15-year-old Yuki Ito, a sophomore at Pittsburgh Alderdice who is also homeschooled. 

Ito said if we don’t currently have the technology to fight climate change, we can and will be able to develop it. But she worries that the government is moving too slowly on climate policy. Ito wants to go into biochemical engineering, working on sustainable ways to produce and transport vaccines for diseases like malaria that impact low income countries.

Like many teens at the event, she aired her frustration at older generations for their inaction on climate change.

“I feel like older people make decisions based on what they want and what they feel like, but not thinking about what the younger generation is going to experience,” Ito said. “Just thinking more about what are the problems that we’re going to face when we’re adults, as opposed to how is the older generation just going to be able to be more comfortable.”

Sam Ruano, 16, a student at Shaler Area High School said he’s frustrated by climate change disinformation.

“A lot of companies purposely misinform people, just to paint themselves in a better light and make it seem as if it’s not such a problem that it is,” Ruano said. “It’s really hard to tell what is and what is not a trustable source. To find good information, you have to go to multiple sources.”

Ruano’s classmate, 16-year old Madelynn Tomko, said it’s very easy to fall into the doom side of climate change, and feel hopeless. 

“But when we’re so involved with the things we do with our school sustainability club, I generally feel a lot of hope because we have so much change just right here in our community,” Tomko said. “I think it’s going to be a lot more widespread as more and more people take on this sort of action.”

Tomko said she gets hope from projects like the park her club is working to build in Millville, which includes a rain garden to soak up storm runoff, and a greenspace they protected in her community.