Youth leaders can have a positive effect on global climate change

Despite its many challenges, climate change is an environmental problem youth increasingly are willing to tackle. Addressing the causes and effects of climate change presents youth with countless opportunities for taking on leadership roles.

March 8, 2012 - Author: Brian Wibby, Michigan State University Extension

Thinking about making a dent in climate change can quickly cause many to become overwhelmed or feel powerless to make a meaningful difference. The scope of climate change, however, presents unlimited opportunities for youth to take on leadership roles and engage in activities that suit their talents in addressing the causes and effects of climate change.

According the US Environmental Protection Agency, climate change “refers to any significant change in measures of climate (such as temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or longer). Climate change may result from:

  • Natural factors, such as changes in the sun’s intensity or slow changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun;
  • Natural processes within the climate (e.g. changes in ocean circulation);
  • Human activities that change the atmosphere’s composition (e.g. through burning fossil fuels) and the land surface (e.g. deforestation, reforestation, urbanization, desertification, etc.)”

According the United Nations, the consequences of climate change may cause significant impacts on the ecological functioning of the planet, which may adversely affect the hydrological cycle, cause a loss of biodiversity by increasing the risk of species extinctions, increase sea levels and water temperature, and cause increased health risks to humans. The U.N. states that, “The impacts of climate change are already being experienced across the globe in the forms of floods, droughts, and an increased frequency and intensity of severe weather events.”

With the goal of inspiring “up to 6 million 4-H youth to plant trees in their communities to help slow global climate change,” the 4-H Million Trees Project is an example of the significant positive impact that an individual youth can have when they become engaged in a leadership role to address the effects of climate change. The international service-learning project was started by Laura Webber, a member of the Pacifica, California 4-H Club in San Mateo County, after watching the Al Gore documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth.” According to the 4-H Million Trees Project website, as of March 2012, over 348,000 trees had been planted as a result of the project. The project has been expanded to the international community through a partnership helping to plant trees in southwestern Kenya.

The Michigan State University Extension 4-H Youth Development program offers educational opportunities to help youth, and the adults who support them, to develop the knowledge, leadership and community engagement skills needed to reduce the negative effects of climate change.  Whether it’s attending a regional 4-H Leadermete Conference, participating in a program like the 4-H Great Lakes and Natural Resources Camp, or using 4-H curricula to study environmental science and alternative energy, the opportunities for youth to develop the knowledge and leadership skills needed to address the causes and effects of climate change are truly unlimited.

The Citizenship, Leadership and Service page on the Michigan 4-H website offers more information about the opportunities Michigan 4-H provides for youth to engage in leadership and civic engagement.

Tags: 4-h, citizenship & service, civic engagement, climate change and variability, community service & service learning, forestry, leadership, msu extension, natural resources

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