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Dane County Office of Energy & Climate Change

Youth Leadership in Waunakee


My name is Isak Drangstveit, I’m a senior at Waunakee Community High School and a co-leader of the Dane County Youth Environmental Committee (DCYEC). My childhood was steeped in the outdoors so I have always had a nostalgic interest and compelling care for nature. This, and my hopeful future, has fueled my passion for environmental solutionism.

As I grew older, I learned there were threats to the very thing that built me as a person. By my teens, I suffered from climate anxiety. I saw headline after headline about how I might not have the same chance at the American Dream that other generations had. I knew the only way to reduce my stress was to do something, and quickly.

So, I joined DCYEC, a cooperative of youth saving their futures themselves, minus the adults who had put them there. At DCYEC I spoke with dozens of other High Schoolers about how their communities were addressing climate change locally. I was surprised to hear that other municipalities already had standing committees on sustainability. Students even sat as voting members on these bodies. 

I then attended the first Dane County Youth Climate Conference and was again shown how local of an issue climate change can and should be. I left emphatically energized, and maybe a little jealous of my counterparts.

After intensely researching my Village government, I connected with our Village Administrator. After meeting with him, he decided to perform a study through the UW, postponing any chance at quick action. After 5 months, I learned that the study showed Waunakee was behind the surrounding communities.

Armed with new information I began a campaign led by young people to push for a sustainability resolution. Kathy Kuntz and I presented to the Village Board about what was happening in Dane County and I added a draft resolution that would create a sustainability committee. The Village Board approved and scheduled a special meeting to make the change. I vowed to make a public comment at each meeting until a resolution was passed.

As the special meeting approached, and I was in Washington D.C. lobbying against the Line 5 Pipeline, the board unanimously postponed the meeting for an indefinite time. I then contacted every Village Trustee and met with each Trustee who responded. I explained what was important to myself and my peers and answered the multitude of questions they had, asking them to act expeditiously.

At each meeting (virtual or in person) I provided a public comment and encouraged friends to do the same. Each comment was a little different, from a personal story to raw carbon data from the University of California Berkeley. I interviewed with the local paper twice and organized community members to send in written comments before a meeting where the Board planned to vote. Again the Board agreed to do something but tabled the vote. 

But, on February 5th, 2024, I delivered my final public comment on the issue. The board used parts of my draft resolution to create a new one with fewer students and trustees, limiting the strength of the body. Two of the Trustees I met with previously swiftly amended the resolution to its original submission and with a unanimous vote, Waunakee added an ad hoc sustainability committee composed of 3 Trustees, 4 community members, and 2 high school representatives.

Persistence pushed Waunakee forward. We never stopped because of a setback, however long it may have been. My classmates and I only missed one meeting throughout the six months between our presentation and the legislative action but sent a written comment over email. By bringing the issue to the forefront of every meeting, even when sustainability was not on the agenda, there was a consistent environmental narrative. My peers and I made governmental changes unlike any in our community before and at ages still too young to vote. We made sure the youth voice would not end on February 5th by weaving teens into the governmental process. Our work is not done, but we brought our village forward, as a community and as individuals.

It may take a few minutes to write an email, or two years to convince your government to address the climate crisis head-on, but change can happen. I am coming out of this experience, which took significant time and some sacrifice out of my high school years, educated and even more resolved to fight for climate action. Please support the youth climate movements in your communities, even if it takes some borderline-annoying-persistence. 

Go to for more information on the youth in your community.

Isak Drangstveit

Isak Drangstveit

Guest Blogger

Isak is a high school at Waunakee Community High School

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