Climate Summit Encourages Change

Owen Favreau

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On Friday, May 24th over 200 Island students and faculty accompanied local environmental leaders at the Felix Neck Sanctuary for the first annual Youth Climate Summit. The summit aimed to address anthropogenic climate change and its various solutions. In discussions that ranged from food justice to sustainable architecture and building, members of the Youth Climate Summit learned that it takes a community of people working together to inspire significant changes.

The summit was organized by Felix Neck Educational Coordinators Josey Kirkland and Liz Dengenis, along with a student leadership team. Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS)juniors Emily Gazzaniga and Owen Favreau, along with Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School (MVPCS) senior Aiden Donovan led the summit planning. Members of the Protect Your Environment Club (PYE) at MVRHS and a handful of environmentally passionate MVPCS students also assisted in preparing for the summit.

The idea for an Island-wide Youth Climate Summit was brought to the Vineyard schools by Ms. Kirkland, who was inspired to host a Youth Climate Summit after attending a Mass Audubon meeting a few years ago. The initial idea was to hold a regional summit with participants from the Cape and Islands. “The interest [on the Island] was so large we decided to hold a local one here,” Kirkland said.

The day began at 8:30 with a light breakfast and introductions. Food contributions were generously provided for breakfast and lunch by various Island organizations such as Chilmark Coffee, the Grey Barn and Farm, Pasta for the People, and Scottish Bakehouse. Four round table discussions were then facilitated by local leaders and students from the school’s environmental groups. Noli Taylor of Island Grown Initiative, Richard Andre of Vineyard Power, State Representative Dylan Fernandes, and others, led conversations on climate-related topics such as sea level rise, renewable energy, and waste reduction.

The climate summit primarily focused on individual action, but an underlying theme throughout the activities was the importance of community. Ms. Kirkland said, “A support network is important so that [the students] can continue the good work they have started and know that they are not alone.”

One such student facilitator was MVRHS student Caroline Hurley. Junior Caroline Hurley and senior Victoria Scott are co-presidents of PYE. Hurley was inspired to join the club after the summer of her sophomore year.

“The discussions were a way for people to express their views on climate change and their ideas on how to make a difference,” Hurley explained. “It was uplifting to see my generation and younger kids examining new ways to help the environment.”

In the afternoon, members of the summit broke off into more hands-on activities such as Advocacy Writing, a “needs and wants” exercise hosted by MVPCS student Aiden, and a hike along the Felix Neck property to examine effects of climate change in person.  

“To see firsthand the damage to our island’s invaluable salt marshes was eye-opening for me,” explained MVRHS junior Alex Rego, who is a new member of PYE. “The summit took a large and abstract concept and made it applicable at our front door.”

The day concluded with the writing of a Climate Action Plan, in which students proposed tangible plans to improve an environmental issue in their respective communities. In the coming months, students will have the opportunity to turn discussions into movements as they implement their plans into their lives.

After learning about the importance of sustainable shopping during a round table discussion, juniors Molly Baldino and Owen Favreau used their Climate Action Plan to establish a permanent clothing swap at MVRHS to reduce the environmental costs of clothing production and shipment.

Hurley attested to the importance of this Youth Climate Summit as a way to continue inspiring change on Martha’s Vineyard. “It was empowering to see what a larger group of students can achieve in the Martha’s Vineyard community.”