Climate change is one of the most pressing problems the global community is facing and it is already affecting us here in Nashville. Young people didn’t cause this problem but they are just as vulnerable to the consequences and are becoming some of the most vocal advocates for change. At the Nashville Youth Climate Summit on February 20, 2021, 63 youth from across Nashville came together for a day of learning, dialogue, and action on climate change.
The Nashville Youth Climate Summit is hosted by the Cumberland River Compact in partnership with the Mayor’s Youth Council coordinated by the Oasis Center. The Summit was planned with eight members of the Mayor’s Youth Council who led recruitment, speaker outreach, and discussions at the event.
The Summit opened with a Climate Change 101 presentation from Dr. Jonathan Gilligan with Vanderbilt University. His talk set the stage for everyone in attendance to be on the same page with climate change. Dr. Gilligan’s slides are available online.
The remainder of the morning was filled with sessions on climate justice and racial justice, sustainable food systems, climate change communication, sustainable fashion, youth organizing, Nashville’s sustainability plans, and climate entrepreneurship. The wide variety of speakers and topics allowed youth to connect climate change with the other issues they are passionate about.
“My favorite part was hearing from people and organizations who actively participate in solving these problems. Their experience was very informational and also beneficial to hear.”
“My favorite part was hearing the experiences and wisdom from experts in their fields on tangible ways we can make a difference. I loved both the sustainable fashion session and the racial and climate justice session. I learned SO MUCH on the intersections of different industries and climate change!”
“My favorite part was connecting with different community organizations. I learned of a few new ones and will further look into them!”
The speakers and organizations that attended also felt more prepared to continue their work.
“This is such a cool event! These young people are motivated and I love it. Thanks for having me and all the work you’re putting in to fight climate change”
“Because of you ALL, I feel comfortable that my future will be bright! It was an honor to be a part!”
We know addressing the climate crisis can be overwhelming, especially for young people who have faced a changing climate for their whole life. As a group, we explored resources for climate anxiety and created personal mission statements to ground our work in addressing the climate crisis.
Community Action Pathways
To end the Summit, students collaborated with community leaders on five climate action pathways: Energy, Natural Resources, Mobility and Transportation, Waste, and Community Action. Each group developed climate actions at the individual, school, and community levels. Here’s an overview of what they come up with:
- Individual: Volunteer to plant trees with @root_nashville and encourage your friends to join you!
- School: Start an environmental club at your school to increase awareness of climate change and ways we can mitigate it.
- Community: Make posters and visuals to put out in public places and get community centers involved in tree planting. Learn more about how to get your neighborhood involved in tree planting here!
Mobility and Transportation:
- Individual: Consider what other transportation options (besides cars) are available when going somewhere (i.e. biking, walking, public transportation). Walk Bike Nashville’s commuter guide can help with this!
- School: Spread awareness within your school about how to make transportation more accessible and encourage the administration to do the same. Start an environmental club if there isn’t one!
- Community: Once you are 18, vote for candidates who support making public transportation more accessible and who are working to make Nashville a more pedestrian and bike-friendly city. You can also advocate for politicians to support green transportation initiatives–learn about the advocacy work Walk Bike Nashville is doing here!
- Individual: Avoid single-use plastics, compost food and vegetable scraps, and check out SavetheFood.com for ways to get local food and meal plans better!
- School: Get your school to implement recycling bins that are clearly labeled and easy to use, use less paper where possible, and start conversations in the classroom and school community about reducing waste.
- Community: Work to connect people with mutual aid networks where they can donate excess clothing and food. Or, help to educate your neighbors on how we can unite to live more sustainably and build stronger communities.
- Individual: Dry clothes on a clothesline instead of in the dryer to save energy.
- School: Run for student government to increase your power to make a change in your school. Work with administrators to get better energy systems within your school such as implementing solar panels on the roof, installing LED lights, and/or modernizing the HVAC system. You can also push for adding engineering and shop classes where students can learn more about sustainability and energy and prepare to be a part of the green workforce.
- Community: Talk to city council members and officials about what the city action plan is on energy and advocate for legislation that increases energy efficiency requirements for new buildings.
- Individual: Find out who your representatives are on the city, state, and national levels and write a letter to them about an issue you are passionate about. Educate yourself of the environmental issues within your community and beyond (follow @nashvilleyouthclimate and @sunrisenashtn for local issues and @intersectionalenvironmentalist for more national + global issues)
- School: Go to school board meetings to advocate for the changes you want to see in your school and create or join student groups that are dedicated to issues you are passionate about.
- Community: Use social media and word of mouth as a way to spread awareness about the issues you care about and join community organizations dedicated to these issues to help take on larger projects such as protests or school strikes. A brief (and certainly not exhaustive) list of local environmental advocacy organizations to check out: Sunrise Nashville, Cumberland River Compact, Climate Reality, Tennessee Conservation Voters, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and Climate Nashville.
Committing to one or more of these actions will help to make Nashville a more sustainable city! If you complete one of the actions that students brainstormed at the Summit, please let us know! You can tag us on Instagram or Twitter or send us an email.
Finally, students were asked to imagine a future Nashville that they would like to live in. Here are some of their visions.
“A sustainable Nashville looks like a place where there aren’t underserved neighborhoods, just one large community working together to make sure everyone has what they need and no one is deprived of basic human needs. A sustainable Nashville is one that takes strides to minimize unnecessary energy usage, starting with turning off lights in schools when they aren’t being used. It is a place where food is shared and leftovers are taken care of without being disposed of wastefully. No one would go hungry and the community would support one another. A sustainable Nashville is one that I see taking shape and with the help of the younger generation I am sure we can achieve this, we just need to work together and prioritize all of Nashville.
“I would like to live in a tight-knit community that is there for each other. I would like to live in a community where climate change is taken seriously and climate change is addressed as the real all-encompassing threat that it is.”
“My ideal Nashville is one not divided and instead united in its sense of community and charity. It passes legislation to the benefit of the disadvantaged and creates a space for discussion of improvement. It is preserved and safeguarded against pollution and waste. My ideal Nashville continues to be a hub of art, food, and creativity, for the enjoyment of future residents and visitors”
These visions of Nashville are something we can all take part in making a reality. As community leaders, experts, organizers, and youth, we can all be resources for each other in creating the future of Nashville and the world.
The sessions at the Nashville Youth Climate Summit were recorded and are available online.