The powerful combination of Earth Week events and student empowerment has continued to sustain a global movement toward a more sustainable future. On April 21, 2023, nearly eighty students from across the Bay Area joined together for “Youth for Climate Policy,” an online Earth Day event aimed at empowering the future generation of leaders to promote climate-friendly policies at the local government level. Organized by Sustainable San Mateo County and cosponsored by five local environmental organizations (350 Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action, Acterra, Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and Peninsula Clean Energy), the event brought together State Senator Josh Becker, four former mayors of cities in the Bay, various student advocates, and a wide-ranging audience.
California State Senator Josh Becker gave opening remarks, describing California’s progress in addressing climate change, the role of government systems and the impact youth can have in encouraging new policies. From the socioeconomic context of sustainable transitions to the legislative processes enacted to meet future goals, Becker demonstrated what currently is, and what can be.
Student leaders Jayden Wan and Shayna Blum of Burlingame High School gave an interactive presentation expanding on the role of local government and youth in mitigating issues of climate change. Describing the need for both individual and systemic change, they emphasized collaborative advocacy, saying we’re all on the same team, after all.
In the spirit of combining the voices of both youth and elected officials, “Youth for Climate Policy” brought together four former mayors – Terry Nagel of Burlingame, Kirsten Keith of Menlo Park, Mark Olbert of San Carlos, and Georgi LaBerge of Redwood City – to share their thoughts on youth advocacy, and its importance in local government systems when it comes to climate policy.
Terry Nagel described the approachability of local elected officials, and their willingness to collaborate on issues of climate change. She noted the role of the Brown Act in shaping interactions between the public and government, as well as how the first step to anything is simply to ask.
Kirsten Keith encouraged students to make public comments during City Council and other local government meetings to convey their ideas to elected officials. She noted that council members cannot discuss public comments unless they are made during an item on the formal meeting agenda.
Mark Olbert mentioned the importance of tailoring arguments to suit the interests of elected officials, helping them to help you. He said a good proposal benefits both sides.
Georgi LaBerge highlighted the more technical aspects of advocacy, inviting youth to assess existing efforts put forth by local governments in sustainability, and to build on their proposals. She said speaking confidently and naturally, and saying “thank you” enhances one’s impact.
After a question-and-answer session, the student advocates encouraged the audience to pursue advocacy even after Earth Day. They shared a list of opportunities offered by local environmental organizations that involve youth, and noted that the future is in their hands, exhorting their peers to “ shape it into one that we’re proud of!”