Although the news from COP26 is certainly mixed, I’m feeling very hopeful about the climate crisis these days.
COP26—the 26th United Nation’s Conference of Parties aimed at addressing climate change—is ongoing in Glasgow, Scotland. Despite some encouraging announcements, such as the United States’ renewed commitment to climate change action, climate advocates are rightly frustrated that the event continues to generate more talk than action.
Still, I’m feeling hope, because of “Glasgow to Dane County: A Youth Climate Summit,” a local climate event in Oregon, Wisconsin held in parallel to the COP26 proceedings last weekend.
This one-day climate summit for local high school students at the Oregon High School showcased more than 50 local high school students, a handful of school green team advisors, and about a dozen volunteers. Additionally, UW Assistant Professor Leah Horowitz attended and spoke about climate action at the international level, along with County Executive Joe Parisi and me talking about climate change and climate action here in Dane County. As part of the day students also spent time strategizing about climate solutions and shared their own views on the climate crisis.
Beginning to end, the event provided a huge dose of hope.
Foremost, I was excited see the diverse array of students from 17 high schools across Dane County who arrived excited to spend their Saturday talking about climate issues. One early arrival told me that she was thrilled to be able to be part of the event. That enthusiasm for digging in, for being at the table talking about solutions, is inspiring.
Too, I was dazzled by the folks who organized this event. The UN group, affiliated with the local UNA-USA Dane County chapter, is a mix of retirees and working individuals, all people with busy lives. Impressive leaders in their own right, these organizers created an opportunity for students to gather and empowered the students to facilitate the discussion and identify priorities that resonated with the youth. In a world where too often the older generation (i.e., those of us who did not address climate change decades ago) is prone to talk at the young people demanding action, this event demonstrated an alternative model where organizers created space for youth talk to each other, with elders quietly observing from the sidelines.
I was exhilarated to hear the thoughtful and intelligent questions these students asked of the speakers, as well as the insights the students shared throughout the day Participants asked savvy questions about international relations and county-level activities, demonstrating their dedication toward and understanding of current events, social justice issues and emerging technologies. Given the brilliance these students displayed, I can only imagine how formidable they will be once they are old enough to vote; I look forward witnessing their emerging leadership.
So it is no wonder I left the event feeling so hopeful.
The concept of hope came up repeatedly throughout the day. Both Professor Horowitz and the County Exec talked about how important it is for all of us to believe in our own ability to create climate solutions, despite all the challenges. And numerous students talked about how being with their peers and hearing from experts helped them feel more hope and passion for climate action.
The climate crisis is a difficult and complex problem. Believing we can make a difference while seeking out opportunities to collaborate with others is the path forward to climate solutions. Although our individual impact might be small, together these changes add up to the kind of cultural transformations we need. And it all starts by getting involved.
I am feeling hopeful about climate change because I spent my Saturday with 75+ amazing people from across Dane County, people who are committed to doing their part to address climate change. We can do this Dane County.
Kathy is the Director of the Dane County’s Office of Energy and Climate Change. In that role she's leading efforts to implement the Climate Action Plan. Prior to coming to Dane County, Kathy led Cool Choices and, prior to that, she led Wisconsin's Focus on Energy program.
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