Indiana students receive national recognition for climate activism

September 20, 2022

Writer Ana Rakita is a class of 2024 student at West Lafayette Junior/Senior High School.

What started as a group of high school freshmen itching to make an impact has grown into a state-wide initiative. Now, Confront the Climate Crisis is reaching new heights after winning the President's Environmental Youth Award and being on a prestigious podcast this summer.

Confront the Climate Crisis is a student-run organization that seeks to bring awareness and action for climate change to Indiana. It was launched in May 2019 at West Lafayette High School as the WL Climate Strike, but now includes high schoolers from Carmel High School and all across the state.

CTCC has held rallies at West Lafayette City Hall and the Indiana Statehouse, led marches of hundreds of striking students, and worked with Indiana government officials to pass climate legislation. Two of the organization’s founders and now-graduated seniors from West Lafayette High, Annabel Prokopy and Ethan Bledsoe, decided to compile its extensive resume into an application for the President's Environmental Youth Award.

The award, issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, acknowledges efforts by students to aid the health of the planet. To choose winners, the nation is broken up into 10 regions, and within each region there is a kindergarten-5th grade and a 6th-12th grade age group. Applications are reviewed according to a rubric, and the winners from each region are given a presidential plaque in Washington, D.C.

Confront the Climate Crisis students in September, 2021, at a press conference and rally in West Lafayette. First row, Annabel Prokopy is third from left; second row, Ethan Bledsoe is also third from left.

Prokopy and Bledsoe submitted an application on behalf of CTCC in February and received word of their success in spring. They applied for the 6th-12th grade age group in Region 5. The application included a detailed description of every event they organized and their work towards climate legislation, along with news articles, press releases and videos. On Aug. 4, Rahul Durai, a co-executive and the legislative director of Confront, along with Ashlyn Walker, another co-executive and the outreach director, accepted the award in D.C.

National recognition is a huge step for CTCC, in terms of tangible progress as well as new opportunities. “It’s a great thing for the campaign going into the next year because it really validates everything that we’ve been doing,” Annabel Prokopy said. “It’s going to help a lot more people around the country know about our efforts.”

The PEYA Award wasn’t the only larger scale achievement for Confront the Climate Crisis. On July 19, a new episode of the podcast Kelly Corrigan Wonders was released. Host Kelly Corrigan sat down with Dr. Katharine Hayhoe and Rahul Durai to discuss the global climate crisis and the work being done by students in Indiana to combat the issue.

Kelly Corrigan Wonders is a show dedicated to unpacking all aspects of the human experience, including mental health, advocacy, and careers. The episode featuring Durai was recorded in front of a live audience in Jacksonville, Florida, and is part of a series within the podcast partnering with the Science Moms. Science Moms is an organization of climate scientists who strive to provide valuable information about the climate situation. Hayhoe is one of the Science Moms and a globally influential advocate in the climate movement.

Rahul Durai, left and Ashlyn Walker, in D.C on August 4 to receive the award.

Throughout the episode, Corrigan, Durai and Hayhoe touched on the specific climate situation and coal culture of Indiana, the process of legislating, environmental education and social influence.

“For me, and for, I feel like, a lot of kids, we feel this urgency when it comes to the climate crisis. And we think that if our planet is doomed, then why is everything else worth it?” Durai said on the podcast.

Following these appearances on the national stage, Confront the Climate Crisis now looks to further its cause with new projects and collaborations. On Sept. 16, it partnered with Earth Charter Indiana to host the Indiana Climate Policy Conference at the Indiana Interchurch Center. (Youth Environmental Press Team is a program of Earth Charter Indiana.) Expert guests and participants engaged in discussions about smart climate solutions in agriculture, transportation, and other sectors.

Indiana students receive national recognition for climate activism