Eleven young people from California to Kenya have decided that the future of the planet can’t wait. Whether it’s global warming or mountains of electronic waste in landfills or air pollution from idling school buses, Action For Nature’s International Young Eco-Hero Awards’ 2008 winners are tackling some of the world’s most urgent problems with kid power.
Young environmentalists ages 8-16 have been recognized every year since 2003 by Action For Nature (AFN), a U.S. non-profit. Global youth share their stories and explain their work. Winners are determined by a panel of experts in environmental science, biology and education. Prizes include cash, certificates, and other benefits.
Global warming was on the minds of this year’s winners. Al Gore’s award-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” clearly inspired the top three 11-13-year-old honorees to take immediate action:
The first National Geographic kids’ expedition team included 11-year-old Colin Carlson from Coventry, Connecticut. When the group went to see the islands’ penguins, only five were found – a species, he learned, that is declining due to climate change. He formed the Cool Coventry Club in response to Al Gore’s film, which aims to educate his community about energy conservation and environment. His task was difficult. Coventry was historically hostile to environmentalists, and many residents did not believe in global warming. However, Colin persevered. By creating a website, networking with environmental groups, and enlisting experts to make presentations at local churches and libraries, he wanted to prove that caring for the planet could be cool. With the Girl Scouts, he plans more outreach in his region and makes presentations in schools. Eventually, he convinced the local council to adopt a SmartPower resolution, and he has convinced many local businesses to sell and promote energy-efficient light bulbs. When his friend Brett developed asthma, Nathan Moos realized how environmental problems such as car exhaust and air pollution were impacting human health. During his school pick-up lane, he encouraged parents and bus drivers to stop idling their car engines in an innovative way to protect his fellow students. He enlist the help of 18 other 6th-graders, who printed out signs educating parents about the harmful effects of particulate matter in the air and then stationed themselves along the line of cars at the end of the school day. Nathan is also working with state officials and district transportation officials to adopt bus idling restrictions after their daily presence attracted lots of media attention. Having watched “An Inconvenient Truth” twice, 13-year-old Alec Loorz of Ventura, California was so impressed, he talked about it at school the next day. One of Alec’s best friends denied global warming was real. That’s when he realized he couldn’t wait to be old enough to train to give Gore’s presentation – he had to do something right now that reached children like his buddy. In order to educate students, Alec developed a website and gave a presentation. Kids-vs-Global-Warming action teams made pledges to green schools and participate in local environmental projects. SLAP (the Sea Level Awareness Project) is a public awareness project he developed with local officials. As a result of Greenland melting, Alec and a team of young people are designing 100 poles to show residents how far their neighborhoods will be under water.
In the 14-16 year old category, the top three honorees are thinking locally AND globally, addressing issues in their communities and making connections abroad. Despite not being able to attend school, Linus Wafula, 16, studies environmental issues in the library and thinks about ways to address them, especially those related to life in the vast city slum where he lives with his mother. He knows that cholera and typhoid outbreaks are always a possibility in the slum because of uncollected waste. As a result, Linus founded the Mazingara Safi Campaign, a volunteer youth club that collects waste from local households, removes garbage heaps and dumps near homes, and drains stagnant water that might breed mosquitoes. Besides providing garbage bags, the club teaches residents how to participate in local clean-up campaigns. They have also started planting trees to beautify the neighborhood. An e-waste expert, 14-year-old Alexander Lin, is also thinking about waste. Having learned the dirty facts behind technology boom, Alex understood the urgency of taking action before too many consumer electronics ended up in landfills, poisoning groundwater irreversibly. To raise awareness about e-waste, set up recycling and reusing systems, and promote legislation banning e-waste dumping, he founded the Westerly Innovations Network. Students with Alex and fellow students have donated hundreds of computers to needy families in their community, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Cameroon and Nigeria. In Africa, Alex is working with partners to establish Internet cafes and computer centers, and he is lobbying for e-waste recycling facilities to handle the massive amounts of e-waste exported.
As a 16-year-old from Redwood City, California, Andrew Leonard also thinks globally. Despite living in the Bay Area, Andrew visits his family in Beijing, China every year. Three years ago, he noticed how polluted Beijing was. Thick smog always covered it. He knew that China, until recently, was entirely focused on the pressing need for economic development, but thought the country was ready to embrace environmentalism. He also sensed that Americans were increasingly developing negative impressions of China and he wanted to address that as well. A Disney corporation grant was awarded to him to establish a joint ecological partnership between Beijing and America schools, Global Partners: China–USA. The two overcame frustrating communication barriers designed to limit Chinese contact with the West and organized a simultaneous Global Youth Service Day. A day of celebration and cross-cultural understanding took place when children on both sides of the globe worked on an environmental project, videotaped themselves, and then watched each other’s videos. U.S. proclamation was presented to Andrew in Beijing. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo honoring the pilot Chinese partner school and to speak with interested principals there about joining the project. Andrew is proud of all of the young people involved for breaking through years of international suspicion to work on a shared problem. He says, “We’re a new generation that is breaking away from the old, a generation with hope.”
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