• Leila Sulentic

Bay Area Youth Climate Summit Reflections

Some reflections on the Bay Area Virtual Youth Climate Action Summit which took place this past Saturday, September 12, 2020.


As some of you may know, over the past few months I have been working as part of a youth advisory council organizing a virtual youth climate action summit which took place this past Saturday, September 12. Seeing months of work and anticipation accumulate in such an uplifting and incredible event with over 300 participants from all across not only the Bay Area, but the country, was truly moving and inspiring. Oftentimes, the climate crisis we face can seem daunting and overwhelming, but it is moments like these that remind us that we are not alone in this struggle, and that we are not alone in our desires to make change. Seeing so many kids, from all walks of life, passionate about making environmental change has reassured me that a bright future is still possible and that we all, especially my generation, have the drive, the passion, and the skills to make it so.


There were many incredible moments during this summit, but the biggest highlight for me would probably have to be the Hope for Reefs workshop led by Bart Shepherd, director of the Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium, which I had the honor of introducing and the pleasure of attending. In this workshop, Bart talked about the incredible exploration, restoration, and education around coral reefs being led by the Academy and a number of other partner aquariums, zoos, and animal centers as part of their Hope for Reefs Initiative. One of the main focuses of this work is repopulating once thriving, and now nearly or completely degraded elkhorn coral populations by collecting the sperm and eggs released by these corals, mixing them together in a controlled lab environment to hugely increase successful fertilization rates, and then returning the resulting coral polyps to various degraded reef locations around the globe where they can continue to grow, reproduce, and create lively and genetically diverse coral reefs once more. For many years now, I have been fascinated by coral reefs, in love with scuba diving, and determined to pursue a marine biology and ocean conservation career so Bart’s work with coral conservation, exploration (including deep sea reef diving, a huge goal of mine,) and education has made me more excited than ever about my future coral conservation and research career options. Bart’s ability to make positive environmental change in the world while pursuing his passions for diving, exploration, and the ocean is proof that whatever your passions are, there is always going to be some way to use them for positive change in our world, even if you have to think outside of the box and get creative.


The other workshop that I was fortunate enough to attend was a panel with leaders from Youth Vs. Apocalypse, a Bay Area based climate justice youth organization that works to amplify the voices of youth activists, especially youth of color, in the fight for a more sustainable, healthy, equitable, and just world. The panelists talked a lot about the intersectionality between social justice, equity, and climate change, highlighting a number of powerful examples of environmental racism and the disproportionate effects of climate change on communities of color and indigenous communities such as how droughts are causing mass famine and economic crisis in El Salvador and Guatemala amongst indigenous populations that rely on agricultural work for income and food. The panelists then went on to talk about how living sustainability is not always possible or accessible, especially for low income people, and how large systemic changes in our society that tackle both issues of climate and equity are the changes we really need in order to solve the climate crisis. One of my biggest take-aways from this panel is the need to amplify the voices of people of color and marginalized communities in the climate movement. Even though low income, indigenous, and black and brown communities are the ones experiencing the worst effects of the climate crisis and environmental degradation, their voices are often smothered by those of white activists. Even though it is incredibly important that white people be involved in the climate movement, it is also imperative that the voices of marginalized and oppressed indigenous, low income, black, and brown people fighting for climate justice be at the front lines of the movement and that their voices be heard. As a white and upper-middle class person, this was an important reminder of my privilege and because of that privilege, how important it is that I actively follow and listen to POC climate activist leaders, work to involve and uplift the voiced of POC in the climate movement, and step-back when appropriate to allow someone else who may be less privileged than myself to step up and speak up.


Thank you to Bart Shepherd for hosting such a fascinating workshop on coral reefs, to all the amazing YVA panelists for your inspirational and wise words, Amelia Fortgang for heading this event, the Wild Center for your partnership and guidance, and the many other amazing YAC organizers, workshop leaders, and, of course, all those who attended the summit for making this event a phenomenal success. <3

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