On tour to tell teens about climate change

LAKE PLACID – Brian Stilwell is on of a whirlwind tour of the North Country this week, visiting 15 high schools and educating more than 4,000 students about climate change.

In November Stilwell visited Tupper Lake’s Wild Center museum to give the welcoming presentation to attendees of the fourth annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit. Based in Boston, he’s an educator with the Alliance for Climate Education, a national organization that strives to get high school students involved in fighting climate change.

The Wild Center brought him back this week to extend his reach to more students in the region.

“I’m super-psyched to be back in the Adirondacks,” Stilwell told an auditorium full of students at Northwood School in Lake Placid Thursday morning.

Then he launched into his presentation, a mix of lecture, videos and animation set to hip-hop and rock music, created by ACE to be edgy and fun to appeal to high school students. It took a lot of practice to get the timing right so it runs smoothly, Stilwell said.

He started by explaining to students that the way they live their lives has an impact on the world. The average American teenager uses about 21 football fields’ worth of space full of Earth’s resources, in terms of their stuff plus the energy it takes to create that stuff, Stilwell said.

The use of all that energy leads to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere, which traps in energy and starts warming the globe.

Stilwell said that while some scientists say the climate isn’t changing, 97 percent of the world’s climate scientists agree it is, and that humans are responsible for it.

A warmer world is a riskier world, Stilwell said, with more storms, heat waves, flooding, hurricanes and droughts, like the extreme weather New York state has seen in the last two years with Superstorm Sandy and hurricanes Irene and Lee.

Climate change will also affect the economy, national security and health, Stilwell said. He said it will increase the spread of diseases and the number of toxins and other pollutants in the air, leading to increases in asthma.

It could also put important landmarks underwater. Stilwell showed a rendering of what Boston could look like in the coming decades if the sea levels rise, with historical locations like Faneuil Hall covered by the sea.

Stilwell also noted that it could reduce the amount of maple syrup that is produced in the North Country, and it is likely to hit ski areas hard, reducing the number of days people can ski.

If those effects are going to be reversed, Stilwell said the current generation of high school students will be the ones to have an impact on it. He gave the students ideas for simple things they can do to reduce their carbon footprint, like changing to more efficient light bulbs, using reusable water bottles and bags, and starting recycling programs at their schools.

He encouraged students to pick a DOT, which stands for Do One Thing, that they will commit to for the next year and to register their DOTs with ACE, which will make them eligible to win prizes.

At the end of the presentation, Serena Mendola, a Northwoods senior from Ithaca, invited students to get involved in the effort to make the school green.

Mendola attended the Youth Climate Summit this fall and was part of the decision to help bring Stilwell to her school. Northwoods recently started a sustainability committee, but it’s largely made up of school administrators, plus Mendola and another student.

“But now we’re really trying to get student involvement, because we’ve come up with very good projects,” Mendola told the Enterprise. “The students are what will push these projects to work.

“So we thought that ACE coming here would really kick off the students to want to get involved.”

Stilwell also gave his presentation at Lake Placid High School Thursday and is presenting at 13 other high schools in the North Country including Tupper Lake, Saranac Lake, Long Lake, Keene and as far away as Plattsburgh, Canton and Indian River.

The goal is to build on what the schools’ green teams work on at the Youth Climate Summit.

Stilwell said his organization was excited to be able to partner with the Wild Center for his presentation at the Youth Climate Summit.

“There’s so much energy and great organization around that,” Stilwell said. “So with that and talking to Jen (Kretser, the Wild Center’s lead organizer of the Youth Climate Summit), we thought it would be great to, you know, continue the energy that happens there and come back out and try to really get buy-in for those teams of students who were at the summit.”

The presentation gives students at the schools context for why the green projects the green teams are working on are important, Stilwell said.

“We have high hopes that this will lead to some really cool projects,” he said.

Contact Jessica Collier at 518-891-2600 ext. 26 or jcollier@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.