A year of isolation and mask mandates has fostered a new appreciation for fresh air. Whether it’s to find peace and quiet or a place to safely reconnect with friends, we’ve all turned to nature more than ever during the pandemic. Beneficial to everyone and made for no one, nature grounds and unifies us.
But we are surrounded by worrisome signs. The beloved boardwalk that is warped by a storm each year; the sandbags piled up — a Band-Aid solution to an eroding beach. Sea level rise, ocean warming, and increasing acidity combine to threaten the environment that fuels the Cape’s economy.
Cape Cod’s high school and college students have grown up hearing the conversation about climate change grow more urgent. As young people, we can’t help but think of what it will mean for our future employment prospects and quality of life. We will be the ones to experience the effects of today’s decisions about the climate — either with gratitude or grief.
So, it is young people who must heed the call to action and advocate for the decisions that will preserve Cape Cod and the rest of the planet.
Cape Cod Youth Climate Leaders is a group of high school students from across the Cape working to spread awareness and advocate for climate initiatives. We are learning to be change makers, using our voices and harnessing our individual power. Still, we face a formidable barrier — our youth! While armed with conviction, passion, and dedication, we lack the power and experience policymakers have. That’s why we believe partnerships between young people and adults will result in powerful initiatives.
While recycling and metal straws have been the individual’s guide to environmentalism, they are not enough. Real change happens through policy and education. While we know local action can generate meaningful change, attendance at town meetings is low. Our fear of the unknown, and just being too young to vote, deters many of us from joining in.
Two years ago, with support from Mass Audubon Cape Cod, we made a start at bringing together impassioned young voices, the voting public, and the powerful pens of policymakers. One hundred students and government and environmental leaders took part in the Cape’s first-ever Youth Climate Action Summit in Harwich.
The summit resulted in numerous climate change-related projects in schools and communities: we created the Mass. Climate Education Organization (MCEO), which is working on legislation that will update statewide educational frameworks on climate change; we attended town meetings where voters discussed adopting the Cape-wide declaration of a Climate Emergency; and we convinced our schools that going solar makes economic sense.
Another regional youth-led summit is in the works for spring 2022. And in pursuit of tangible results, we want to go further and play a role in local policymaking. To do it, we’ll need the help of everyone, not just young people. We are educating ourselves now in civics and the political process. In the months ahead, you will be hearing more from us — perhaps at an annual town meeting, via social media, and in the news.
We hope that, unified by our belief in the importance of nature and the need to protect it, we can all come together as change makers.
Trinity Poon is a junior at Sandwich High School. Other members of the Cape Cod Youth Climate Leaders attend Sturgis Charter School, Nauset Regional High School, and Cape Cod Academy.