The Wild Center's Youth Climate Program was born out of a major national climate conference held at the Center in 2008. The conference, Land of Opportunity: The American Response to Climate Change, brought leaders from around the nation into a closed-door gathering to find a way that we could map a path to lower carbon emissions for the United States. The Conference attendees included John Holdren, Frances Beinecke, Michael Levi and more than 150 others. What this conference, and another Adirondack conference that followed, did not have, was student participants.
A few students were invited to watch the proceedings, and for one, Zach Berger, watching wasn't enough. He approached The Wild Center to see whether he could help organize a Youth Summit for students in the region, where students could come, learn, and develop their own action plans for their schools. The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit was hatched from that idea.
Each year the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit reaches more than 25,000 students represented by the 150 participants from 27 high schools, colleges and universities across the North Country. It has also reached across the Atlantic, as a model for a Finnish Youth Climate Summit. For the past five years the Summit has given students the tools to make changes in their own schools. The Summit has led to financial savings and shifts in mindsets across the Park. Students who participated over the past few years returned to their schools implementing changes including creating school gardens to provide food for their cafeterias, expanding recycling and composting programs, and carbon audits for energy programs.
The Summit has grown to encompass a full-year program with outreach, educational and leadership opportunities for the students.