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Fourth Annual Bay Area Youth Climate Summit Cultivates New Wave of Local Gen-Z Climate Advocates

[San Francisco, CA] – On October 14th, 2023, over 220 Bay Area youth from 93 high schools joined forces with educators, community leaders, artists, and activists for the fourth annual Bay Area Youth Climate Summit with a collective mission: to inspire, empower, and uplift youth voices in the fight for climate justice and reimagine the climate crisis as an invitation to possibility. Hosted in partnership with the California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park, the 2023 summit kicked off with a keynote speech exploring bridging hopeful climate cognition and systemic change from Molly Kawahata, the former Climate Advisor to the Obama White House.

Throughout the day youth participants attended 14 different workshop sessions led by local climate experts, which gave youth a chance to step into the shoes of organizations who are spearheading varied and impactful work and to explore dynamic solutions and approaches to our changing climate. Workshops included, “Radically Imagining Brighter Futures Through Queer Ecological Theory with Jaye Mejia-Duwa​​, a PhD student at the Berkeley Rausser College of Natural Sciences, “Navigating (Environ)Mental Health in the Era of Warming” with Dr. Debra Safer & Kyle Lane-McKinley of Stanford’s Climate Change & Mental Health Special Initiative, and “Deep Dive: Marine Mammal Care and Conservation” with Joelle Vallejo of the Marine Mammal Center. I briefly spoke with some of these speakers to hear their perspectives on the summit, climate activism, and youth action for our collective future.

"Empowering Climate Action: Understanding San Francisco’s Environmental Ordinance Process" Workshop with San Francisco Environment Department. Nicole Ravicchio © California Academy of Sciences.

Joelle Vallejo, a leader of the Marine Mammal Center’s high school youth programs, led the marine mammal care workshop. She wants to highlight marine conservation in climate discourse, motivating youth by demonstrating what they can accomplish. “We really want youth to feel empowered to help save our oceans and help improve [ocean] health by getting the chance to see other youth that work at our center, making a difference . . . we hope that it will inspire other youth to take action,” she said. Jaye Mejia-Duwan similarly believes their workshop topic, queer ecology, provides an inspiring message for today’s youth, sharing that, “queer theory and queer activism provide radical potential and hope for alternative visions for what climate justice can look like.”

All of the speakers interviewed agreed on the importance of youth in the climate space, understanding that youth voices are absolutely essential in the fight for a brighter future. They shared a collective sentiment of awe at the organizational skills and passion exhibited by the BAYCS team and summit attendees. Lane-McKinley highlighted that, “It's very important to us to to put youth at the center of [climate activism] particularly to learn from their current experiences, but also to anticipate the kinds of transformations that will be needed in order to better serve people.” Vallejo agreed, stressing that, “we really want everyone to feel empowered because we all need to work together in order to help our planet improve . . . youth are the future. I feel like this generation of youth are also the most equipped and have so much knowledge about our environment.” While Mejia-Duwan shared a similar sentiment, they wanted to emphasize that not all responsibility should be placed on the shoulders of young people. “We often defer all climate action to younger people . . . I do think that it is everyone's responsibility to fight climate change,” they said.

"Radically Imagining Brighter Futures Through Queer Ecological Theory" with Jaye Mejía-Duwan, Ph.D. student at the University of California, Berkeley, Rausser College of Natural Resources. Nicole Ravicchio © California Academy of Sciences.

These speakers felt overall encouraged by the youth they were able to meet. As Mejia-Duwan shared, “I was so impressed with and inspired by how excited everyone was about [queer ecology].” Lane-McKinley pointed out the generational differences in climate activism since he attended high school, highlighting how the movement has become more malleable and mainstream. He said, “What's changed is that there is [the] capacity for spreading the movement across like a whole cohort of young people.”

As a second-time attendee and new BAYCS team member, I am amazed at how the summit has grown over the past few years. While I often find myself falling into climate doom, the summit's theme of resilience and community-centered climate justice truly gave me a sense of assurance. But the most uplifting part was seeing the sheer amount of youth and teachers dedicated to systemic change. While attending the queer ecology workshop, I expanded my view of intersectionality within the climate space, a field of thinking that resonates with me as a person of color. Additionally, the marine stewardship workshop reminded me how climate action can concurrently be fun and effective. One quote shared by Meija-Duwan during their workshop stayed with me—it goes as follows, “there are some battles that are worth fighting, even if you think you're going to lose.” Meija-Dewan credited this quote to one of their professors at UC Berkeley, Dr. Courtney Morris. Ultimately, this year’s summit simultaneously served as a reminder of the work we must do to make actionable changes benefitting our planet, while also providing the attendees, speakers, and BAYCS team members with a beacon of hope.

Thank you to the driven youth, teachers, activists, artists, and local changemakers for joining us at the fourth annual Bay Area Youth Climate Summit. Nicole Ravicchio © California Academy of Sciences.

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