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Teens learned leadership skills at the 2022 Nashville Youth Climate Summit

July 6, 2022

Nashville Youth Climate Summit

Climate change is an ever growing concern here in Nashville and in the wider world. Despite the fact that it was older generations who set climate change in motion, youth are the most at risk to its consequences. As a result, young people have defined themselves as leaders, advocates, and the voices of the climate movement and they are desperate to create change. At the third annual Nashville Youth Climate Summit on March 5, 2022, students from 21 schools across the Nashville area came together virtually and in-person to learn, collaborate, and take action on climate change. 

The Nashville Youth Climate Summit is hosted by the Cumberland River Compact in partnership with the Mayor’s Youth Council, which is coordinated by the Oasis Center. The Summit was planned with seven members of the Mayor’s Youth Council who led recruitment, speaker outreach, and discussions at the event. 


The Summit began with a Climate Change 101 presentation from Dr. Jonathan Gilligan with Vanderbilt University. His talk allowed for everyone who attended to be on the same page and understand the basics of climate change and climate justice. Dr. Gilligan’s slides are available online and you can view them at this link.

Following this presentation, the rest of the virtual morning was filled with powerful panel discussions on racial and climate justice, climate resilience, sustainable fashion, climate policy, sustainable food systems, and climate careers. The array of topics and expertise of the speakers on said panels allowed youth to connect climate change with the other social issues they face and care about. Panels were recorded and can be watched on our YouTube channel.

Students were able to learn a lot from the panels and came away inspired and optimistic about the future: 

My favorite part was hearing the advice given by people who have positively impacted the world through their work. It has inspired me into teaching others about climate change and the actions we need to pursue.”

“I really enjoyed hearing from lots of different perspectives in our sessions. For example, in the sustainable fashion panel, I liked hearing from manufacturing representatives, stylists, big companies like Patagonia, as well as small businesses.”

“I loved connecting with other young people and seeing the opportunities available in my community now!”

Vision Planning

To conclude the virtual portion of the summit, students were invited to be inspired by what they had learned from peers and leaders earlier that morning and instructed to imagine what the future for Nashville could look like. Imagining is a key part of taking action to advance sustainable living as it provides us with a clear idea and goal to work towards. These are some of their hopeful visions:

It would look like a diverse community where every person regardless of race, sexuality, or ethnicity can work together to mitigate climate change. Where cities can learn to make sidewalks, incorporate green infrastructure, and add more trees.”

“Nashville would have solar panels on main business buildings as well as more electrical cars and reusable energy. There would be community work days that we as a Nashville community would commit to picking up trash, volunteering, etc., a day to celebrate earth while keeping it clean. There would be education all around for people of all ages to know their impact as well as how they can change small things in their daily routine to help climate change.”

“I imagine a world where everyone has the same opportunities and access to resources when it comes to problems caused by the climate. A world where the pollution that ultimately causes climate change is controlled and when it does happen, communities around the world—governments, activist groups, unaffiliated people—come together to stop these problems.”

These visions show that our hope for the future of Nashville is strong. With time and hard work, we believe these visions can become a reality! When empowered, solution-oriented people (including all our youth and experts at the Youth Climate Summit) commit to learning, creating community, and taking action, this change is possible.

Climate Leadership Development

Following the virtual summit in the morning, 21 students from 11 different schools attended the climate leadership development session during which they learned skills to help them put their climate visions into reality. They started small––with finding their own role within the climate movement––and then imagined how they might communicate and collaborate with others to have a greater impact. Here is a brief overview of what the students explored:

Personal Climate Action

personal climate action

To kick off the leadership development portion of the Youth Climate Summit, students were introduced to an activity rooted in personal reflection which would help reveal their unique roles in the climate movement. The activity was created by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and shared on the podcast How to Save a Planet

Students answered three questions: 

  1. What brings you joy? What are you passionate about? What do you always feel motivated to do? What are your hobbies and interests?
  2. What are your strengths? What skills and talents do you have? What are you good at? What do other people notice you are great at doing?
  3. What work needs to be done? What issues need solutions in Nashville and beyond? Think both small (individual actions) and big (systems change).

climate action Venn diagram

By understanding these three aspects of our lives and how they overlap, we are provided with a very personalized guide regarding the work we can do for our climate (or whatever you are passionate about). It is important to remember that addressing climate change and building resilient communities requires many people doing work on many solutions. We all have different qualities that impact the work we are suited to do and all of it is important! Try making your own climate action Venn diagram and if you share it, be sure to tag us on Instagram @nashvilleyouthclimate @crcompact

Climate Communication

Eli Motycka talks about climate communication

The second skill students focused on was communication. Youth read an article by climate scientist and communicator, Dr. Katharine Hayhoe. They reflected on her tactics and discussed with their peers the importance of effective communication on climate change. Eli Motycka, a local journalist with the Nashville Scene, also joined the youth and shared his personal experience of having difficult conversations and advice on how to be successful communicators even when what we have to share is controversial and complex, such as with the topic of climate change. 

Check out Eli’s advice on having a productive climate conversation:

having a climate conversation

We know that communication is an ESSENTIAL skill to have. Environmentalists can use their voices in various mediums to express their knowledge, feelings, and experiences of the climate crisis. Knowing how to manage climate conversations and creatively share your climate story will help you connect with, engage, and empower others in your community to take action.

Check Eli out on Twitter @ejmotycka and read some of his work here.

Collective Action

collective action planning

To round out the afternoon, students continued to work with their groups and learned about collective action. Jacob Aparicio, with the Oasis Center, led students through an activity where they practiced community action planning. Through a series of prompts the youth were instructed to identify relevant issues in their community, use their strengths and climate actions from their Venn diagrams, and communicate with their teams to develop solutions and propose an action plan. 

nashville youth climate action planning

Practicing action planning empowered students to use the skills learned previously that afternoon and emboldened their passions for addressing social issues. Youth realized quickly that organizing and taking action with others increases their ability to make change and tackle real world climate impacts. 

What Students Had to Say:

“I loved meeting and getting to talk to all the experienced activists and people.”

“My favorite part of the Youth Climate Summit was working with everyone to make the climate action project!”

“The climate action activity was my favorite because it was something all of my group members were passionate about making it a reality, and we’re trying to do it now.”

Students left the leadership development session of the Nashville Youth Climate Summit feeling equipped to be change makers and leaders in Nashville. Thank you to the youth, community leaders, and all who participated, we cannot wait to experience the incredible impacts your voices, power, and leadership have on this community! 

You can follow the Nashville Youth Climate Summit on Twitter and Instagram. Interested in getting involved? Email our Education Programs Manager Catherine Price.