This year, for the first time, the Forest Service partnered with the Green School Alliance and their principle partner the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in support of the Student Climate and Conservation Congress (Sc3). Held June 21-27 on the beautiful campus of the FWS’s National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. Sc3 brought together more than 100 creative, innovative and dedicated high school students from across the country. While there were adults present if needed, Sc3 was a youth driven congress. Their big quest “To change everything, we need everybody. How will you engage others in developing a brighter and more just global community?”
For the Forest Service the Sc3 was a great opportunity to look through the eyes of youth as they prepare for their generation’s leadership role in addressing the challenges of a changing climate. As shared by Dr. Douglas Boyce, Acting Climate Change Advisor, “I was particularly impressed with the students’ depth of knowledge and grasp of issues surrounding climate change. Dealing daily with the problems associated with climate change, I found hope for the future because I learned these students are engaged, passionate, and poised to help society tackle and solve the mounting number of significant and challenging climate change issues.”
At the beginning of the Congress, students decided on ten topics and were charged to develop a project and presentation around a chosen topic – with the intent to implement their projects when they returned home. The ten topics were: education, lifestyle change, justice and policy, community/political, agriculture/food and gardening, social media/technology, sustainable infrastructure, climate change, art and waste management.
Avoiding the climate change doom and gloom, students were creative and innovative in tackling the topics. Presentations included innovative websites full of information and a call to action, a vertical garden created from recycled products, the “Shake and Fold Challenge” used song and dance in a “video commercial” on how to not waste water or paper – just shake, shake, shake your wet hands and only one paper towel, please. Woodsy Owl got his groove on in the commercial to show his support of conservation. Another presentation “Earth without Art is Eh” students cleverly combined humor with science and an artistic flare to present how they see the world in relation to climate change and conservation. For them everything in the natural world is art, including us.
Each of the Sc3 10 topics is a potential concern/impact needing further discussion as we develop local, national and international strategies to meet the climate change and conservation challenges to come. Several of these students are already involved in Forest Service program partnerships that focus upon conservation education, land stewardship and food security. In the future, we will likely see some of these Sc3 students join the Forest Service team as leaders in addressing issues and creating solutions to climate change and natural resource conservation.