This is a guest blog post by former ACE student leader Gina Fiorile.
Every day, I learn more and more about the generation of leaders that I belong to. It is important to realize that this generation of youth leaders is one of the most passionate and the most caring. These characteristics are what will carry us to victory in the battle for action against climate change.
When I was a sophomore at Saranac Lake High School in the Adirondack Park of Upstate New York, I had the opportunity to attend a Youth Climate Summit that opened my eyes to climate change effects. There, at the annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, I saw my first ACE Assembly on the science of climate change. I remember thinking how clearly every detail about the issue was presented, and not understanding how anyone could deny such simple facts. I am so grateful for having the opportunity to attend, because it truly changed my life. It was as if this experience had flipped a switch in me - I was set ablaze with this burning passion to fight climate change.
I couldn’t stop talking to my family and friends about how we could make my school more sustainable. Soon after attending the Youth Summit I started to get more involved in climate leadership roles in my school. I first joined the steering committee that planned the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit. I also served as Vice-President of my high school’s environmental club in my junior year and went on to serve as the President the following year. I attended an ACE Youth Leadership Training session in Boston and presented our work with the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit with my peers.
I eventually began organizing students around community events and club projects that promoted sustainability. We applied for and won a grant to build a greenhouse that would allow us to grow our school garden even in the colder winter months. Our vegetables were used as a part of the Farm to School initiative that brought fresh, local foods to school lunches.
My peers and I also worked to promote our school’s zero-sort recycling program and educate others on the importance of reducing waste. I raised money from local businesses to purchase one thousand reusable bags that were distributed to community members free of charge in order to help reduce waste created by single-use plastic bags.
One of my environmental club’s greatest accomplishments was having a the ACE Assembly presented to the entire student body annually. The Assembly offered my peers the opportunity to learn about climate science and to work to lessen the impacts of climate change.
The climate education I experienced through ACE has had a lasting effect on me. I am an Environmental Studies major at the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. I attended the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit this past year with two students from my University who helped to plan the first ever Vermont Youth Climate Summit, which took place on my campus, and was attended by students from nearly every county in Vermont. I travel to screenings of the PBS documentary The Resilient Ones, which features myself and two other students, while planning the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit.
Because of my work, I was nominated as a White House Champion of Change for Climate Education and Literacy by my high school’s Environmental Club adviser. I travelled to Washington, D.C. and spoke on a panel with seven climate experts. I was the only college student and was able to offer a youth perspective on the issue. During my time there, I met Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s Science Adviser, and Gina McCarthy, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Being honored at the White House was the experience of a lifetime, and it is an experience that would not have happened without my inspiration from ACE.
It is exciting to have opportunities to represent my generation of passionate leaders and stand up for our future. Since my visit to the White House, I have become a spokesperson for youth, offering moral claims as to why we should act on climate change. I recently visited the Vermont Senate to testify on a resolution that would acknowledge that climate change is human-induced. This summer, I am interning with the Wild Center, where the Adirondack Youth Summit is held. I’m also looking forward to working with organizations such as 350.org, Vermont Public Interest Research Group, the Environmental Protection Agency.
After college, I plan on working on environmental justice issues with a nonprofit organization to continue my involvement in combating climate change. Looking to the future, it is my hope that environmental education becomes more common in schools through programs such as the Youth Climate Summit and ACE. Your generous support to ACE ensures that more youth like me will have access to critical climate education that will create lasting passion for climate change mitigation and resilience. Please support this important work to create effective solutions and empower student leaders to make positive changes toward sustainability in their schools and communities.
Gina Fiorile is a freshman and Environmental Studies Major in the Rubenstein School of the Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont. She is a member of the Aiken Scholar’s Program at the University and is interested in supporting student activism on campus. She is a featured student in the PBS documentary The Resilient Ones and recently won an award at the White House as a Champion of Change for Climate Education and Literacy. She hopes to inspire passion within other students to achieve their goals toward climate change mitigation within their communities.