Writer Mary Hiatt is a senior at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech in Columbus, Indiana.
On Sept. 16, 2022, student-led climate justice group Confront the Climate Crisis, in partnership with Earth Charter Indiana, hosted a climate policy conference at the Indiana Interchurch Center in Indianapolis. Approximately 120 people attended, nearly half of whom were high school students. [Disclosure: conference co-host Earth Charter Indiana is also the program sponsor for Youth Environmental Press Team.]
Numerous presenters shared insights, including Guidon Design, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Citizens Action Coalition, Indiana Forest Alliance, and many more. They tackled topics such as recycling architectural materials, reduction of fossil fuel use in big manufacturing companies, sustainability within businesses and reducing energy use in buildings.
The initial speaker and host, Rahul Durai, a high school junior and co-founder and co-executive director for Confront the Climate Crisis, described that the purpose of the organization. The group includes students from dozens of schools across Indiana working to address the climate emergency. A main focus of the organization is to inform and teach the Indiana state Legislature about climate issues.
These young advocates are aware that the worldwide issue of climate change will not get better unless people are actively working to fix it. This includes addressing the causes of climate change, such as reducing carbon emissions from transportation, energy and buildings. By working with stakeholders in Indiana, CTCC hopes to make a real difference.
Breylin Stewart, a junior at CSA New Tech who attended the conference, said, “There are so many solutions to reduce the amount of pollution going into our ecosystem that I could think of right now. This is just one of those things that the world around us likes to avoid.”
Questions arise. What can be done? How much time left is there before things drastically get worse? When will people realize they cannot run from this anymore?
A conference to change the world
Sarah Mincey, managing director for IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute, spoke over Zoom about ERI’s work in Indiana. Mincey said the extent of damage in our environment is impossible to take back completely, but some of it can be undone.
“Indiana is getting warmer and wetter,” Mincey said. “The temperatures are rising and the amount of rainfall is increasing, creating a multitude of problems. The decline of winter seasons is in store for us if we continue on every day with ignorance.”
Mincey emphasized that lower income communities do not have the ability to flee the effects of climate change. Equality is impossible to accomplish when human-created pollution is affecting lower-income families and communities all around them. This quickly turns from being an environmental problem to also addressing political and economic justice issues.
Ben Inskeep, with Citizens Action Coalition, explained in his presentation how schools in Indiana could benefit tremendously from solar power. Inskeep also encouraged the transition from traditional lighting to LED; in other words, he emphasized energy efficiency as well as renewable energy.
A Terre Haute high school junior, Ahan Bhattacharyya, also spoke at the conference. Last summer, Bhattacharyya served as an intern for Terre Haute Mayor Duke Bennett, who asked him to write a report on the city’s recent greenhouse gas inventory, a precursor to a climate action plan. Bhattacharyya presented the report and how it can help his city be more prepared for the climate crisis.
Making a change
CSA New Tech environmental science teacher and mentor Bridget Steele, who brought New Tech students to the conference, said, “If more people would just listen to what we have to say, the differences could be seen by now.”
CSA New Tech environmentalist and senior Savannah Steele, said, “I will keep attending these events until I physically cannot anymore.”
Looking around the room, this writer saw many impressive students and advocates. It was an amazing opportunity to hear these people speak on the very real concerns in our environment today. We are all aware that this isn’t going to go away if we ignore it.
What we can do is take action to make it less harmful. We can reduce the damage we are causing if we just take this seriously.
CTCC’s Rahul Durai concluded, “We know that the state of Indiana can be a leader in reversing emissions and pursuing climate solutions, and we are more excited than ever to continue to work with people like you for the future of Indiana!”
To learn more about Confront the Climate Crisis, visit the website.