My name is Silas Swanson; I’m from Saranac Lake NY, in the Adirondack Park. The Adirondack Park is 6 million acres of protected wilderness in upstate New York, half is public land owned by the state, and the other half is private land with small towns and villages. Anyone who lives here has the opportunity to experience the outdoors, with protected land in your backyard. The Adirondacks are such an integral part of me, of anyone that has grown up here, and I hope to preserve this region so that the person that grows up in my town at any point in the future can have the same experiences as I have in 2015, instead of the projected North Carolina-like climate by 2050.
Yet, as I look out my window, on what was supposed to be the second Nordic cross country ski race of my season, there is no snow. It is the warmest fall and early winter on record. Fifteen miles from my house in Lake Placid, the Winter Olympics were hosted, not once, but twice. This season, Whiteface, the great Olympic mountain, has a single trail (of manmade snow) for their race program, and the Cross Country ski program has salvaged a .17 mile “loop”. Both of these programs have produced athletes with all colors of Olympic medals, yet, how are they to continue training their aspiring athletes (myself included) with no snow? Saranac Lake is home to a Winter Carnival, dating back to 1898!! At its centerpiece is a legit, full sized, castle of ice (harvested from the lake) which draws thousands of people and is an anchor event for our winter-dependent economy. Every year the fearful conversation about not getting cold enough grows louder and this year has the worst outlook yet. No Ice Palace would be the first cut away from my hope of everyone enjoying the same Adirondack experience. Finding that personal connection to the winters I love turned the choice to do something into a moral obligation to advocate for the town and the whole planet. If you look at the big picture, every person has that obligation to do something, we share the same planet. Now, I realize how important it to take action. But how?
Enter the youth-inspired, youth-run, youth-organized, and youth-representative Adirondack Youth Climate Summit (AYCS). Because of my passion about climate change, I’m now a Youth Climate Leader and I help plan and coordinate the summit to help further a lasting impact. In its seventh year, the AYCS is a two day conference at the Wild Center (a science museum) designed for students to work on the climate crisis. Over 250 students came to take part in workshops and plenary sessions. There are professors, climate scientists, musical artists, farmers, and other high school students, presenting a common goal to “be a part of the solution.” We create our own Climate Action Plan to bring back to our school to work towards making a Green School. The uniqueness and effectiveness of a climate conference driven by students has brought the AYCS acclaim from across the world. We’re part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and participated at COP 21 in Paris. With its growing success, AYCS has been able to offer amazing opportunities to students like me. When speaking about the AYCS, I make a point of saying that you can’t walk away from it satisfied with yourself that you were just there, the whole point is for it to be the beginning of your own journey to action. The AYCS has stood out as a new way of project-based education that has turned local students into representatives of international movements.
In addition to coordinating the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit, as a youth climate leader I have worked on several important community initiatives and work with community leaders and government officials. As a representative from the AYCS, I travelled to Miami with other youth climate leaders to be trained by Al Gore through The Climate Reality Project. I now use that knowledge to make change happen. Within a month of Miami, I was at a village board meeting accompanied by Climate Reality’s I Am Pro Snow letter; resulting in Saranac Lake being the first town on the East Coast to sign on in support of world leaders protecting mountain communities from the effects of climate change with the decisions they made in Paris. In the same way that climate change affects each region differently, people will be inspired differently. For me, the Pro Snow letter was the perfect inspiration to affect change. Building a relationship with the village board has helped me with continuing another initiative of reducing the number of single use disposable bags in our village. This has taught me to ask how they can help, and how we can work together, as opposed to making demands. With this mindset I gained the first 250 signatures for a bag-tax letter.
As youth, we have everything ahead of us and are not willing to compromise our future. The youth summit gave me a platform for action, be it for my own personal interests or for positive political change. When presenting to the NYS DEC Bureau of Public Outreach, I emphasized that this is a unique opportunity for anyone that attends or comes in contact with our efforts. In the opening remarks at the summit this year, we were reminded of the power we have in that what we do through our schools will reach 25,000 people; we’re now working to start summits in communities around the world.
Being a part of this youth movement, creating more sustainable schools, honors the fact that we’re the first generation to feel the effects of climate change and the last to be able to do anything about it. As a student you create credibility through action, showing society that after spending your whole life learning, you have made this a priority, creating green schools. We can be the model.
Youth have historically been the catalyst for change, this is no different and we encourage you to follow our lead. We need to educate our generation in green schools to unite more people than ever to save something, to help them find their reason, be it rising sea levels affecting island nations, droughts, or health risks. If you can’t see these as relatable reasons I know you can find something close that you can care about. Or if nothing else, please help me save my ice palace, and then help others find their ice palace worth saving too.