Climate change is already lapping at the shores of Cape Cod, but the task of tackling it isn't just in the present. It's an ongoing event that will require action well into the foreseeable future.
With that in mind, the Cape Cod Commission is looking to get the next generation on a path toward understanding what's at stake and being part of creating resilient and sustainable solutions.
That's the goal of the commission's Climate Ambassador Program, entering its third season in 2023. The program's administrators are now seeking candidates to become climate ambassadors; students in grades 9 through 12 who live on the Cape and Islands are invited to apply.
The commission describes the program as an initiative "to educate, engage and empower young people on Cape Cod to work together to combat the impacts of climate change." It was inspired by young people's expressions of interest in being part of climate action endeavors on the Cape and islands.
"At various times during the commission’s Climate Initiative and development of the Cape Cod Climate Action Plan, youth stakeholders indicated that they felt strongly about climate change and wanted to be part of the process to take action," Sarah Colvin, commission communications manager, said in an email. "In an effort to make information and experts more accessible, and on hearing that young people often look to their peers as trusted sources of information, the commission developed the Climate Ambassador Program as a means to educate and engage youth and build a network for information-sharing."
The climate ambassadors interact with climate experts and activists to gain a deep understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change, in addition to learning how to communicate effectively about climate issues and exploring ways people can effect change, both as individuals and collectively.
During the five-month program, participants learn about climate issues not only from a regional and local perspective but also from a global one, while also being introduced to carbon reduction strategies, resiliency planning and equity considerations. The program culminates with each ambassador completing a small project that demonstrates how young people can have a personal impact on climate change at home or within their community.
Examples of student projects presented over the past two years, according to Colvin, include plans for a small-scale carbon dioxide sequestration plant, a taxpayer-supported beach protection fund for the town of Chatham, climate awareness murals to be installed in school buildings, a guide to supporting climate-forward businesses, several projects related to CSAs and community gardening, several projects promoting composting, a study of the carbon dioxide absorption in native evergreens and a plan for a community-supported agriculture network.
About 40 students from 12 school districts have participated in the Climate Ambassador Program since it was initiated in 2021. Last year there were 18 participants, including one high school freshman, four sophomores, eight juniors and five seniors hailing from Barnstable, Bourne, Falmouth Academy, Martha's Vineyard Regional, Mashpee, Monomoy Regional, Nauset Regional, Sandwich, Sturgis East and West and Upper Cape Tech. In 2020, there were 20 participants.
Members said they got involved for various reasons, from wanting to learn more about climate change in general and how it impacts Cape Cod, to wanting to learn more about careers in green industries, explore positive solutions, connect with like-minded peers and spread awareness.
"Sometimes it's difficult to find others who really share that passion, and to see that there are so many other kids just like me on Cape Cod who share this desire to protect and preserve our community for the future, that was really enlightening," said past climate ambassador Nathan Ware, a 2021 graduate of Mashpee High School who shared his thoughts about the experience on a YouTube video the commission created.
He said residents of Cape Cod can already observe sea level rise compromising the beaches, "and I think it's important that we know enough to take action now."
As an ambassador, he said, "I think that the content that I learned is something that I can carry on to my UMass community and really the world, so I think it was incredibly valuable and I'm so glad to have been a part of it."
Fellow past ambassador Emily DeGowin, a 2022 graduate of Bourne High School, also shared thoughts about the program on the video.
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"I saw it as an opportunity to not only follow my own interests but to make change. At a time that I wasn't even able to leave my own house I was still able to make an impact on the world around me," she said.
She said the program "allowed people of different skills and talents to work together towards the same goal from a young age and I think that's really important for people to understand."
"I've realized that my actions are going to cause reactions in other people and I feel really empowered to be able to be that change and to be that step forward for other people to be like 'maybe I can be doing that more.'"
The program is designed for new students each year, Colvin said, so the group is starting with fresh faces for 2023.
"In past years, more than 60 students have submitted applications, representing schools across the entire Cape," Colvin said.
The next class of ambassadors will participate in eight meetings between January and May, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. The students will gather virtually, apart from the first, fourth and last meetings, which will be held in person in Barnstable. Meetings are scheduled for Jan. 24 (in person), Feb. 7 and 28, March 14 (in person), March 28, April 11 and 25 and May 9 (in person).
The application deadline is Jan. 6 at midnight. Candidates are asked to describe in detail why they are interested in climate change, explain their current knowledge of the topic and discuss what they hope to learn or accomplish by being a part of the program. A reference from a teacher or guidance counselor is required.
For more information, or to apply for the youth climate ambassadorship, visit www.capecodcommission.org/climate-ambassadors
Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative youth climate group
The Cape Cod Climate Change Collaborative also gets young people involved in climate action. Its Youth Climate Action Network is described on its website as "an active and growing community of students, young adults, educators, climate leaders and allies calling for climate justice and action in our region and across the planet."
"As the generation that must live with the choices our leaders make today, we are raising up our voices to effect change," the youth network's web page reads. "We deserve a world beyond fossil fuels — a world in which our leaders tell the truth, acknowledge the climate emergency and act at an emergency-level speed to stop it. The YCAN is a forum, platform and network established to help accomplish just that."
For more information about the Youth Climate Action Network, contact email@example.com
Contact Heather McCarron at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Cape Cod Commission is recruiting for Youth Climate Ambassador Program