At 7 p.m. on Earth Day (April 22), League member John Smillie kicked off the Youth in Climate Action online program on Zoom from his home. He introduced viewers to a trio of Indiana’s most prominent young climate activists.
Meanwhile, at 7 p.m. also on Earth Day, at Fusion 54, League member Dave Long welcomed viewers to April’s Learn with the League that gathered three experts to inform the community about the removal of the low head dam from Sugar Creek, an event slated for late summer or early fall.
League’s offerings to citizens of Montgomery County that evening were “an embarrassment of riches”: both programs provide vital information for citizens to learn from and to bear in mind as we look toward enacting good public policy to insure healthy outcomes for our community as we move deeper into the 21st century. Both programs are now available for viewing on the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, Indiana, Facebook page. We invite you to view them both and be ready for further discussion.
Smillie got right to the heart of the matter in the early minutes of Youth in Climate Action. After a warm welcome, he launched into introductory remarks: “I’m going to start with a 10-word summary,” he said. “Experts agree. It’s Real. It’s Us. It’s Bad. There’s Hope.” He then quoted Michael Mann who’s observed that much of the hope [for addressing climate change with real action] “is because of the mobilization among our youth.”
Before the young climate leaders were introduced, Mayor Todd Barton spoke briefly. He noted that climate change is now upon us. It has already had “profound impact on local and national and international infrastructure” and spoke of his “two-pronged approach” to the problem. The first is to address things that are already happening. Increased rainfall has meant that our city has already needed to invest heavily in storm water infrastructure and sewage overflow. They have done so successfully and more work continues. We are also the most solarized city in our state, producing c. 50% of our electricity needs. Barton also looks to the future when more local solar capacity will be added and more and more street and traffic lights have been fitted with sustainable bulbs, an ongoing project. Mass transit will also figure meaningfully into our future.
The first youth speaker was Annabel Prokopy, a high school junior from West Lafayette. She is the founder of the West Lafayette Climate Strikes and the Confront the Climate Crisis Campaign. Annabel is a modest and highly committed young student and track and field athlete who has already led several climate strikes and helped organize a state-wide campaign to make sure that public officials are taking climate change seriously. Her podcast “On Strike with Insight” lays out her stance: “I’m Annabel Prokopy and I believe in creating powerful and measurable change while thinking deeper about the topics you’re fighting for.” She urges local youth to plan a strike to help the community see that youth are aware, and to talk to local and state officials about passing a Climate Change Resolution. She also encourages other youth to get their cities and counties to declare a Climate Emergency to spur on meaningful action.
Iris O’Donnell Bellisario, recent graduate of Purdue University, is Earth Charter Indiana’s Resiliency Coordinator. She is also a commissioner on the Go Greener Commission in Tippecanoe County. When Earth Charter Indiana brought its traveling game show, “The Ain’t Too Late, Late Show,” to her school when she was a high school freshman, she was able to swiftly answer questions about carbon footprints and other environmental issues. She was raised in a household where such things were discussed at the supper table. But her friends struggled to answer. It was then that Iris realized that there was a “huge knowledge gap in the public and by public officials too.” While this won’t affect the elders so much, she notes, it is crucial to the younger generations. She then took it upon herself to attend Climate Camps and get Climate Reality Training. Now she reaches out to youth all over the state, urging them to put some pressure on local officials. “Once local officials get started, it is so important to ask, ‘And what comes next?’” To have watched world leaders work together for COVID-19 solutions has given her hope: “If they can do it with the pandemic, they can do it with Climate Change.”
Ian Rollins, a Wabash sophomore, added in some pragmatic projects that he has led on campus including tree planting in our community and an impressive reduction in energy usage by fraternities and other housing units. “I created a contest to see who could save the most energy, and to my surprise, it worked.” Rollins is student chair of Wabash College’s Environmental Concerns Committee.
The Youth in Climate Action program ended with a drawing for several copies of Jamie Margolin’s book, “Youth to Power.” Margolin is the founder of Zero Hour, a nationwide youth climate change organization. Copies of the book were also donated to our county middle and high school libraries. Crawfordsville District Public Library also has six copies of the book to be checked out by any citizen. “Get informed and get active,” say the young climate leaders. “Our lives depend upon it.”
Please take time to view this program and the low head dam removal project (one of Barton’s banner environmental accomplishments) online on the League Facebook or YouTube channels. We will feature more reporting on the low head dam project later this year when removal begins.
The League of Women Voters, a non-partisan, multi-issue organization encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase public understanding of major policy issues and influences public policy through education and advocacy. All men and women are invited to join the LWV where hands-on work to safeguard democracy leads to civic improvement. For information, visit the website www.lwvmontcoin.org or the League of Women Voters of Montgomery County, IN Facebook page.