Cape Cod student summit focuses on climate change and local government

SANDWICH – Students across Cape Town swapped the classroom for Sandwich Town Hall on Wednesday to voice their concerns about the environment at the ‘Climate Change Action Summit’.

The forum, which focused on environmental justice, included a policy-making workshop, where students had to present arguments for and against a fictitious settlement, which would turn Highway 6A into a canal to accommodate future sea level rise. of the sea.

Before taking to the podium one by one to make statements to a mock five-member selection committee, the students broke into groups, huddled together, and strategized for their public comments.

Cape Codders, 100 years from now, might have that argument, said Ella Sampou, communications director for the Youth Climate Action Network. A summit facilitator, Sampou, said the purpose of the exercise was to teach students how local government works.

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“Participating in local government is a useful tool that climate activists can use when making changes,” Sampou said. “Defending our ecosystems is super important.”

The policy-making workshop was part of the second annual summit, organized by Cape Town’s Young Climate Leaders and the Massachusetts Audubon Society. Groups of teenagers from as far away as Plymouth participated to help develop action in response to Cape Town’s climate-related challenges.

Student participation builds confidence

Throughout the mock board meeting, students discussed the causes and effects of sea level rise and discussed challenges and solutions to climate change issues such as erosion, sewage and plastic pollution. Students also raised issues around social justice and access to transportation.

John Bresett, 16, a student at Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis, opposed the creation of a canal in place of Route 6A and said speaking in front of the mock selection committee had left him given confidence to attend a real municipal assembly. One of his biggest hesitations about going to a town meeting is a feeling of intimidation, he said.

On Wednesday, high school students from across Cape Town and Plymouth gathered at Sandwich Town Hall for the Massachusetts Audubon Youth Climate Summit.  Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times

“It’s hard to understand the process and know how to speak to a point,” Bresett said. “The practice has been beneficial and after sitting down I thought I could go to a town meeting and talk about something I believe in.”

Julia Abercrombie, 17, also a student at Sturgis, said the local politics workshop at the summit prepared her to use her voice in the future, but also showed her that numbers have power.

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“We empowered each other and helped each other decide what to say. The decision-making process was important and inspiring,” she said.

Abercrombie was also a student climate ambassador with the Cape Cod Commission and said that experience also influenced her decision to become a climate change activist.

“I can’t vote yet, but preparing ourselves to advocate and use our voice in the future is very important,” she said.

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John Russell, from Barnstable, volunteered to be on the mock summit selection board and said he hoped the policy-making workshop could help students realize there are opportunities in the real world where they can share their voice and create pathways to effect change.

“Our discussion today is not meant to be a real problem, but rather a good exercise to show them how to get involved and how they can make a difference in a real setting,” he said. “It’s powerful enough that they want to be here.”

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Often, Sampou said, high school and university curricula don’t include education about local government, which means many young people aren’t helping make the decisions that most materially affect their lives. Decision makers tend to be older members of the community, she said. While their life experience and wisdom are valued, she said, everyone should have a seat at the table.

“We want these kids to make decisions about Cape Cod and build resilience in our communities,” she said. “We want them to have a voice.”

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Barnstable councilor Kris Clark also attended as a shadow board member for the summit and said she remembered going to her first town meeting when she was a teenager. She said she was nervous when speaking at a conservation commission meeting while in high school and later realized she hadn’t finished her thoughts during the meeting.

“It’s good training to understand and push yourself to get the message across,” Clark said. “It’s a good way to toughen up and expose yourself to public speaking.”

Student involvement proves its worth at Barnstable

Barnstable Town Council member Gordon Starr participated in the summit’s mock selection board. In November 2020, he said, a group of students helped Barnstable City Council pass a climate emergency resolution, which Starr sponsored.

“We’ve seen this work in real time,” Starr said. “When the young people came forward to push the resolution, their input was moving and made a difference to the listening councillors.”

Jim Wolf, Cape Air’s sustainability director, sat on the mock selection committee and was at the meeting when the climate emergency resolution was passed at Barnstable.

“I’m very interested in the power of young voices, in their response and their attempt to mitigate climate change,” he said. “Their voices are stronger than they have ever been on these issues.”

Students listen to Mashpee Wampanoag Casey Thornburgh deliver the keynote address at a Mass Audubon Youth Climate Summit in Sandwich on Wednesday.  Steve Heaslip/Cape Cod Times

Tian Ya Liu, 16, a student at Cape Cod Academy in Osterville, said she enjoyed the formal process of the mock board meeting.

“The goal was for people to challenge themselves to speak in public,” she said. “And for students to get into a concept of how their ideas can affect the general public and make a difference in politics.”