Youth Climate Program

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. 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 around the world, as a model for Summits in Finland, Sri Lanka and Germany, among others. For the past nine 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.

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Notes from Munich

Almost ten years ago a Lake Placid High School student named Zach Berger expressed his concern over the lack of student voices involved in the Land of Opportunity: The American Response to Climate Change, a national climate change conference held at The Wild Center, to the Director of Programs at the museum, Jen Kretser. From this midnight correspondence, the first Adirondack Youth Climate Summit (AYCS) was born, inviting high school students from all over the Adirondacks to engage in youth-centric debates, presentations, and workshops all concerning the effects, but more importantly the strategies to actively address a changing climate. Since then, the regional youth climate summit model, originated from the first Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, has spread like wildfire, inspiring youth from all over the country and world to invite their peers to the stage to convene around climate change. The latest iteration brought myself, Silas Swanson (both AYCS alumni), and Jen Kretser to Munich, Germany for the first ever Munich International School Youth Climate Summit (MISYCS).

Last December a middle and high-school teacher at the Munich International School (MIS) named Stacey Kunst found out about the YCS model through a friend’s Twitter account. After finding a passionate group of students to lead, and after nearly a year of hard work preparing, the MISYCS brought together 11 different European schools from all over Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. The summit itself, like most, explored climate change through an array of different workshops, presentations, and poster sessions. The event’s keynote speaker, Dominic Frongillo, passionately warned students, “Don’t wait until you’re 70 years old, living on a devastated planet, wishing you had done something with the power that each and every one of you currently possess.” Afterwards, one workshop gave students tangible “green team” management tools, another explored the complexities of science communication, while Dr. Inga Beck’s workshop gave students some local European perspective on the effects of global climate change.

The event culminated in the drafting of each school’s climate action plan, an outline for specific, local climate action that each school brings back to their respective communities. The climate action plans the schools brought forward were as diverse as the students at the schools themselves. The Metropolitan School of Frankfurt decided that they were going to refit old, broken trash cans with combination recycling/waste receptacles, while repurposing the old bins for their food and technology class. The Amadeus International School in Vienna proposed a plan to restructure dining in their school by optimizing school meals to reduce waste while simultaneously implementing a composting program make the most of the remaining food waste.

I was looking forward to seeing if and how the European students would react or behave differently compared to students at domestic US summits, and quite honestly didn’t know what to expect. Although separated by political differences, language boundaries, and an entire ocean, I witnessed the same devastated look in the eyes of students who saw the potential damage that 600 ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere could very well bring. Whether it’s threats to social justice and the equity of all human life on Earth, the threat of biodiversity loss in the warming Alps, or rising sea levels in Miami, climate change may not affect us all equally but it does affect us all. I was impressed, yet again, with the passion, maturity, and courage of a room full of students ready to look climate change in the eyes and say, “bring it on.”

Photo: Students from the Munich International School work on their schools Climate Action Plan

By Sean Dory



Science center and partners receive three-year NOAA award to work in North Country, downstate


TUPPER LAKE – A $494,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will support The Wild Center as it helps students and teachers in New York City, the Catskills and the Adirondacks respond to climate change in their communities.

The three-year Environmental Literacy Grant bolsters a collaboration of The Wild Center, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Delaware County, the Kurt Hahn Expeditionary Learning School in Brooklyn, and the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE) as they build climate literacy and preparedness among nearly 1,000 students and teachers.

As part of the project, called Convening Young Leaders for Climate Resilience in New York State, high schoolers will learn to assess the effect climate change is likely to have on their communities, work on techniques to convey those impacts to others, and develop the leadership skills needed to shape localized solutions to resiliency challenges posed by the issue.

“It’s critical for students to learn about climate change—but studies are clear that education alone isn’t enough to lead to action,” said Stephanie Ratcliffe, executive director of The Wild Center. “We also need to empower students to help their communities prepare for the changes that are likely to affect them.”

The grant was one of two awarded this year from NOAA’s Environmental Literacy Program, which supports education programs that use NOAA science to improve ecosystem stewardship and increase resilience to environmental hazards. The following activities will be supported over the 3½-year course of the project:

 ·      Each region will host a pair of Youth Climate Summits, one to two-day events that will attract 150-180 students.

·      Teacher Climate Institutes will engage and empower teachers to feel confident about teaching climate science in their classroom by providing tools, resources and strategies.

·      Selected students will participate in a Youth Climate Leadership Practicum that will focus specifically on leadership skills such as communication, project management, decision-making and problem-solving.

·      Youth leaders will host community outreach events.

While today’s youth are the generation most likely to be called upon to mitigate the impacts of climate change, a Yale survey indicates they’ve had little exposure to the issue, with just 25 percent of high school students demonstrating a basic understanding of climate change. Nor are they studying it in the classroom: Just 22 percent of students say they’re learning “a lot” about the subject at school.

To improve climate education in schools, the project will work with teachers as well as students to develop a Teacher Climate Institute.

“Teachers are so important to establishing awareness about climate change,” said Jen Kretser, director of The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Summit Initiative. “We know they want to incorporate climate change into the curriculum, but are limited in the resources they have to learn about it themselves. By establishing a Teacher Climate Institute, we’ll put educators in direct contact with leading climate experts, so they can build their own knowledge on the topic and bring the discussion into their classrooms.”

While all of New York State will face urgent climate change-related challenges, every community’s response to the issue will differ. In urban areas, for instance, rising temperatures may exacerbate respiratory diseases such as asthma. In more rural places, such as the Adirondacks and Catskills, decreased snowfall might impact winter tourism.

“Addressing the challenges of climate change is among Governor Cuomo’s highest environmental priorities,” said New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos. “Our strategy for fighting climate change is dependent on a well-informed, involved public. The Youth Climate Summits and associated outreach will provide experience and tools that participants can immediately apply in their schools and communities. Perhaps more importantly, they will begin to empower today’s youth to become the engaged, knowledgeable and hopeful adults New York will need to meet tomorrow’s challenges.”

The DEC’s Office of Climate Change will join the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and NOAA’s Climate Program to contribute scientific information, resources and tools to the project, helping ensure that it conveys the latest knowledge and reflects statewide goals.

“The fight against climate change is one of the highest priorities for Governor Cuomo and New York,” said NYSERDA President and CEO Alicia Barton. “This project not only raises awareness of climate change but prepares today’s students to be tomorrow’s leaders and help communities be more resilient.”

Since 2008, The Wild Center has worked with over a thousand high school and college students as well as teachers across the region, building climate action plans students can implement in their own schools and communities.  The work has garnered national and international notice. Over the past few years, the Youth Climate Summit model has been replicated in places such as Seattle, Detroit, Finland and Sri Lanka.

“The best part about this work has been watching young leaders get excited about realizing they can do something about this crisis we’re all facing,” Ratcliffe said. “And it’s exciting to know we’ll be working with even more students going forward. They have the optimism, they have the will, they have new and fresh solutions, and they have the hope.”

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Report from COP 21

Jen Kretser, Gina Fiorile and Stephanie Ratcliffe were at the heart of the climate change movement - the UN COP 21 talks in Paris in November 2015. It was a whirlwind few days when world leaders from 156 countries descended to open the 2 week negotiation period – they left and the work began for countries to come to an agreement to keep climate warming below 2 degrees Celsius. As part of this historic event there were 40,000 people, from around the world, in Paris to not only work on the negotiations, but also make their voices heard. 

The Wild Center and our partners attended to represent youth. Gina opened the US Pavilion as a featured speaker on youth engagement and climate change.

The momentum continued with Our Time to Lead: Youth Engagement on Climate Change, a youth climate engagement and leadership event hosted by Universcience - the Paris Science Center and coordinated by the Association of Science and Technology Centers. Participating science centers from Finland, South Africa, India and Argentina joined the conversation live & online to COP21 participants. Youth delegates on site had a conversation on how they are working in their communities including interviews with Gina Fiorile and a local audience. In addition, a panel of climate scientists participated including Frank Niepold – Climate Education Coordinator for NOAA; Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Professor of Climatology and Environmental Sciences at the Université Catholique de Louvain in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium; and Owen Gaffney - Director of international media and strategy at the Stockholm Resilience Centre, and writer and analyst working in global-change research.



The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit has garnered attention, awards, and praise for both its model and its leaders. See a sampling of what that has been like.


Summits in Situk

Youth Climate Summits have been spreading across the country and around the world. Take a look into some of the places Summits have been held!



What has come out of the Youth Climate Summits is beyond anything that seemed possible eight years ago. Take a look at a few highlights of what Summit participants have done!