From Tupper Lake to D.C.
TUPPER LAKE — Two college students from the Wild Center’s Youth Climate Advisory Board — Cedar Young from Saranac Lake and Andrew Fagerheim from Homer — attended the White House’s first-ever Summit on Building Climate Resilient Communities on Thursday in Washington, D.C.
The two of them, accompanied by Wild Center Climate Network Manager Hannah Barg, made the exclusive list of 70-or-so federal, state, local, tribal and territorial leaders to attend the invite-only summit to discuss preparing communities for the effects of climate change.
Young and Fagerheim were some of the youngest people in attendance, but they both have years of experience doing environmental work. Young grew up attending and organizing the Wild Center’s annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit and Fagerheim started in ninth grade.
They both worked with their local governments to help kickstart Climate Smart Communities programs in their hometowns. Both towns now have bronze certifications through the state, showing they’ve taken action to reduce their environmental footprint.
Young and Fagerheim are also both looking to start careers in environmental and climate work after they get their degrees.
“I feel like I owe a ton to the Wild Center,” Fagerheim said. “That’s really shaped what I study and what I want to do for my career.”
He’s a senior at Columbia University studying environmental engineering. Young is a junior studying environmental studies at St. Lawrence University.
“It felt really cool to get to represent northern New York and the Adirondacks,” Young said.
They described the experience of learning they had been selected to attend this summit.
“I was in class and could not keep a straight face,” Fagerheim said.
Young said she felt a mix of excitement, energy and anxiety.
“For me, my anxiety going into this event is, I’m 20 and this is probably the biggest professional event I’ve been to,” she said before the event. She wanted to make sure she could get everything out of the event she could.
After graduation, she hopes to get into environmental policymaking and law. At the summit, she talked with Green Peace members, lawyers and federal employees, learning about resources for climate resiliency and making connections.
Young said a lot of local leaders are unsure of how to access those resources for resiliency funding. She learned how to find them.
They spoke with members of the Biden administration and numerous federal agencies in roundtable sessions.
This was intimidating, at first, she said. But people were very open to their youthful view, and what the professionals were talking about were things Young and Fagerheim have been talking about for a very long time.
“I feel like young people working with government get to make an impact in their community before they’re able to vote,” Young said. “And government officials are able to get a young perspective.”
According to the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world is on track to eventually warm 3 degrees Celsius due to fossil fuel burning — a temperature increase which could flood coastlines, cause droughts, destroy crops and lead to war. Fagerheim said it would be hard to reach even a 1.5- or 2-degree warming at this point after decades of greenhouse gas emissions.
“That’s discouraging,” he said. “But I think even though we see difficulties on this broad international scale, what gives me hope is seeing all sorts of young people being really involved in their local communities.”
Young said it was great to see people at the federal level talking about mitigation and adaptation and that they are tackling the issue with some optimism. The Biden administration has put more than $50 billion into funding for climate resilience.
Fagerheim said there needs to be more trades and workforce development in green energy and climate resiliency so people can get jobs and prepare for increasing flooding and extreme heat events. He said, when local people are empowered to become experts in climate and resilience, that makes them more committed to the place they live. He recalled someone at the summit saying “you don’t have to leave your community to live in a better place.”
This is something the Wild Center does well, he added.
Fagerheim plans to continue his higher education in graduate school next year. He’s found a love for oceanography research he wants to pursue.
Environmental disasters are expected to increase in the future, and stronger infrastructure will be needed everywhere to weather the changes.
Young said she’s always felt safe from climate change up in the Adirondacks. But here, she’s still seeing the loss of winter.
This summer, smoke from fires in Canada blew down into New York, obscuring the sky, reaching as far down south as Georgia. Flooding hit the Long Lake area, washing out roads. July was the hottest month ever recorded on Earth. Flooding hit the streets of New York City this week.
To attend this summit, Fagerheim needed to take a train and Young flew on a plane.
Young said she personally thinks a lot about the impacts of all her actions as she drives her own car. But she lives in a rural area where there’s not a lot of public transportation.
She hoped to make a big enough difference through what she learned at the summit to offset the flight.
Fagerheim said this comes down to “personal responsibility versus collective action.” Personal decisions are important, he said — to be conscious of the impact an individual can have on the environment.
“But really, the kind of change we need to see is very systems-level,” Fagerheim said. “That’s what events like this can help generate, is those systems-level solutions.”
Hannah Barg, Young, Fagerheim and others are preparing to launch a toolkit at the Wild Center’s Adirondack Youth Climate Summit this November to help young people work with their local governments on joining the state’s Climate Smart Communities program.