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5 Years (and Counting) of the Nashville Youth Climate Summit

March 25, 2024

It all began in late 2019, when five Nashville-area high school students met with Cumberland River Compact staff to take on a new challenge: planning Nashville’s (and Tennessee’s) first youth-led climate summit. After months of sorting through examples from other communities and local climate issues, the Compact staff and students presented the inaugural Nashville Youth Climate Summit on February 8, 2020. Thanks to the inspiration and energy of Nashville’s young people, that little seed blossomed into an annual event that is now in its fifth year.

In the last half-decade, over 270 students have attended the Climate Summit, including 24 Mayor’s Youth Council members who have helped plan it. Over 80 organizations and community leaders (including prominent voices like Justin Jones, Justin Pearson, Amanda Little, Marquita Bradshaw, and Zahra Biabani) have presented at the event. 

The fifth summit took place on February 24th, 2024. It welcomed nearly 50 teens to a full day of learning and action. Mayor Freddie O’Connell provided opening remarks about the city’s efforts to mitigate climate change, after which students split up into interactive workshops hosted by community leaders. The workshops focused on smart growth for cities, tactical urbanism, material repurposing, and more; a favorite was a student-led workshop from the Mayor’s Youth Council on how other students can start a green team at their school.

“I loved the smart growth and tactical urbanism workshops. They were exactly what I was interested in and wanted to learn about more!”

 – Margaret, Hillsboro High School student

Another highlight of the event was a panel of elected officials including Councilmember Delishia Porterfield, Senator Heidi Campbell, and Representative Bo Mitchell. The speakers urged young people to get involved in local and state issues that impact climate. After their remarks, the room was buzzing with renewed energy and optimism.

“I think everyone, even if you’re not 18, can still be active. You can make sure your friends, neighbors, and your family, who are old enough to, go and vote. It’s imperative that you get involved and vote.” 

– Representative Bo Mitchell

The Nashville Youth Climate Summit was modeled after a renowned framework from The Wild Center in upstate New York. According to Jen Kretser, Director of Climate Initiatives at The Wild Center, it is “one of the few programs in the country that is creating explicit dialogue and partnership between youth and city government on climate action.” The Cumberland River Compact’s adaptation of this program is recognized by The Wild Center as the only youth climate program in Tennessee, and one of only four in the entire Southeastern United States. The program’s innovative approach and outcomes were featured in presentations at the National Adaptation Forum and North American Association for Environmental Education and through the Civics and Environmental Education Fellowship Program. 

Although the Climate Summit is just a one-day event, its impact has spread far and wide over the years. Attendees have gone on to amplify their voices in the Nashville climate conversation by writing a youth vision statement for Nashville’s Climate Action Plan, joining the Root Nashville Neighborhood Planting Captain program, speaking on WPLN’s This is Nashville, and being featured in the Nashville Scene’s cover story on youth activism. Dozens have also designed and led climate action projects in partnership with the Compact and sponsored by Nashville SC.

“We’ve been told that [climate change is] going to impact us the most, so that has made it more imperative that we really care about what’s being done now.”

– Apeksha, Hume Fogg student, for the Nashville Scene

 

 

“We’re hearing that there’s no hope, we’re too far in – and parts of that are true, but I don’t think the scare tactic is motivating people to make change.”

– Millie, MLK student, for WPLN

 

The Cumberland River Compact envisions a climate-resilient future in which access to clean and abundant water allows our region to thrive. By supporting young people in climate action, the Compact is giving these future leaders the knowledge and skills they need to be good environmental stewards. Each summit provides a diversity of approaches for climate action so that every student can find their place in the movement. Nearly 90% of Climate Summit attendees say they feel they’ve increased their knowledge after the event, and, perhaps most importantly, 78% say they feel more hopeful. The environmental challenges we face are big, but they shrink in the face of new generations of young people who are educated and passionate about making change.

The Nashville Youth Climate Summit has fully taken root in our community. The Cumberland River Compact now supports annual youth-led climate action projects across Nashville, and the Mayor’s Youth Council has a standing Environmental Justice Committee. Each year affords the opportunity to grow, refine, and deepen the program. As we look to next year and envision the potential of the next Climate Summit, we are filled with optimism for what the future holds.

Special thanks to our partner, the Oasis Center, and to all of the young people from the Mayor’s Youth Council who have made this event happen over the years: Oscar, Mayowa, Anisa, Tatyana, Heba, Reem, Reese, Grace, Suzanna, Alima, Brady, Bethel, Millie, Madison, Trey, Angelie, Greta, Martina, Piers, Eleanor, Apeksha, Kermina, Sophia, and Ainay.

 

Author Bio:

Catherine Price is the Education and Engagement Division Manager at the Cumberland River Compact, where she manages the organization’s youth education and community engagement programs. Catherine brought the Youth Climate Summit model to Nashville in 2020 and has presented alongside national leaders on the Nashville program. Catherine has a Master of Science in Zoology from the University of British Columbia and a Bachelor of Science in Zoology from Miami University.