It's a defining moment for climate change right now — and young people are in the spotlight.
That was the main theme of a public forum last month at TaborSpace in Southeast Portland, titled "Vulnerable populations: How climate change impacts children and young people." It was the fifth in the Let's Talk Climate PDX series launched earlier this year.
"Yes, it is scary …. but it may be the defining moment of our generation," said Tucker Holstun, a Lincoln High School student who helps lead climate education at the downtown Portland school. Holstun told several dozen community members in attendance about how young people like him need more than just lessons about climate. They want context, which they get from a course that Lincoln teacher Tim Swinehart launched last fall on environmental justice and sustainability.
The class spawned from an environmental club students formed last year, which filled quickly. So far, the class has learned about the history and forms of activism, and split into five groups to take on several community projects at once.
They have partnered with local elementary students to talk about climate change; hosted an environmental art show with those younger students' works; held a climate change film night at Lincoln; made a short documentary of their classwork; and took on a carbon emissions analysis of their school.
The work has been empowering, Holstun said, and he's heard about other schools that are interested in creating a similar program.
"The impacts of climate change are going to be greater with every decade; your voices are really impactful," said moderator State Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, D-Portland, to the young panelists, who ranged in age from 13 to their early 30s. She called it her "therapy" to talk to young people about the future.
Holstun was not the youngest activist in the room — two Portland middle schoolers, Jeremy Clark and Charlie Abrams, also charmed the crowd by describing their activism efforts through their climate change blog Two Green Leaves.
Dr. Nicki Nabavizadeh, a pediatric resident at Doernbecher Children's Hospital and a member of Physicians for Social Responsibility, said there are 46,000 children in Oregon with asthma, but that number will rise as climate change worsens. Warmer temperatures circulate more pollen in the air, worsening the allergy season. They also bring more wildfires, which can deposit harmful particles in peoples' lungs.
Gordon Levitt, a young climate law fellow for Our Children's Trust, updated the audience on the status of his organization's lawsuit against the federal government. The lawsuit alleges the government has violated the youths' constitutional rights due to decisions that allowed greenhouse gas pollution from fossil fuels to escalate in the past 50 years.
The case has received a wave of national media attention in recent months, since a judge in U.S. District Court in Eugene recently denied a motion to dismiss the case. Evidence now is being presented. Eleven of the 21 youth plaintiffs are from Oregon.
LeeAnne Fergason, a campaign coordinator for The Street Trust, encouraged citizens to contact their lawmakers and voice their support for House Bill 3230. The bill proposes $10 million per year for projects around schools to improve students' walking and biking infrastructure. The bill also asks for $6 million per year in educational programs to promote walking and biking to kids in schools.
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