“I learned that at my age I have a lot of power, that I can make my voice heard,” said Iffah Merchant, a 15-year-old from Columbus, Georgia. “Now, I know just how impactful I can be.”
That was a key takeaway from students at the third Youth Summit on Climate, Equity, and Health this July at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In collaboration with Putney Pre-College, the annual summit from Harvard Chan’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment brought together 85 high school students from across the globe for speeches, seminars, and talks from over three dozen guest speakers.
Students traveled from over 20 states and five countries with one common goal in mind — to understand the connections between climate and health and channel that knowledge into actions that protect people from the growing risks of climate change.
[gz_pull_quote attribution=”— Alexandria Viger, 16″]“People who are stuck in poverty are most vulnerable to climate change and its damage.”[/gz_pull_quote]
Attendees have faced a wide range of climate impacts in their communities. From extreme weather to drought to unprecedented heat to environmental justice challenges, they all brought their experiences to the summit.
“My home has definitely impacted my involvement with climate work,” said 16-year-old Mischa Yen. Living in Southern California, “extreme rainstorms have brought heavy rainfall and snowmelt in the recent months. Mudslides were triggered, bridges were collapsing, power outages were occurring, and many lost their homes.”
Alexandria Viger has faced other environmental threats in recent years, which were exacerbated by climate change and heightened by her community’s lack of resources and high rates of poverty.
“People who are stuck in poverty are most vulnerable to climate change and its damage,” said 16-year-old Viger. “And Jackson, Michigan, has been a hotspot with a water crisis that has had deadly effects over the past couple of years.”
With hopes of finding like-minded individuals to drive change, 17-year-old Querida Alleyne and others applied to the summit.
“I’m from a small city in New Jersey where the majority of the population are immigrants, Latino or Black, and are low income. Simply put — climate change isn’t on the forefront of their minds,” said Alleyne.
With no one involved in the same work back home, she has faced a “lot of fear — arguably paralyzing — in being one of the first to involve myself in the climate space.”
A common interest sparks
“Once you get to college you have a lot of opportunities. If you are in high school, the opportunities are fewer,” said Harvard Chan School’s Vish Viswanath. “To catch the students early on, seek their help, and mobilize them, it will lay the foundation as they grow older.”
“By fostering that conversation and providing that platform, C-CHANGE is making a big difference,” he added.
The students were divided into seven focus groups based on their shared interests: climate communications, press, and media; climate science; entrepreneurship, industry, and technology; environmental justice; global health, epidemiology, and infectious diseases; medicine and healthcare; and policy and advocacy.