Inspiring youth to engage in activating democracy and emerge as game changers

Young Game-Changers in Action:
Meet Ella S., Portland Youth Climate Council

“If you really want to make a change, there’s nothing you can’t do!” says high school student Ella S.

And she speaks from experience. As a sophomore in high school, Ella and her friends are helping Portland, Oregon transition to renewable energy by 2035.

Ella’s interest in transitioning off fossil fuels started in middle school. Sunnyside Environmental School requires all 8th grade students to join an “issue cohort” to gain experience working with local government or organizations to effect community change.

When Ella entered 8th grade at Sunnyside, she joined the Climate Change Cohort. She knew a little about climate change from her parents and the news, and she had heard about the Climate Change Cohort’s activities when she was a 7th grader. She thought that the cohort sounded interesting.

Climate change turned out to be a topic that piqued her enthusiasm. “I went from knowing very little about the subject to becoming very passionate about it in a very short time.”

The Climate Change Cohort learned that several fracked gas pipelines were proposed for the Pacific Northwest. In Oregon, the proposed pipelines would cut through old growth forests and cross hundreds of waterways. The gas would be piped to proposed LNG terminals in Warrenton and Coos Bay on the Oregon coast, super-cooled to a liquid, and then exported by tankers to other countries as “clean energy.”

Ella explained, “Our Climate Change Cohort researched the issues, and we realized that LNG is not clean energy and that LNG terminals in general don’t make any sense with Oregon’s goals of renewable, clean energy. If built, the proposed Jordan Cove LNG facility in Coos Bay would be the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Oregon.”

At the same time, the 8th grade Climate Change Cohort testified at a City Council meeting in support of a No New Fossil Fuel Infrastructure Resolution. While there, the students met some filmmakers who also supported the resolution. The filmmakers were interested in working with the youth to create a fun, informational video to educate people about the impacts of hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking), liquified natural gas, and the proposed LNG projects.

The Climate Change Cohort released their film, LNG: Just Another Dirty Fossil,” at Sunnyside’s week-long Energy Teach-In for middle school students in January 2016. “We were happy with it,” said Ella. “We think it helped make a difference and, later that year, both the Warrenton Coos Bay proposals were shut down.” (A year later, with President Trump’s stated support, Pembina filed new permits for the Jordan Cove project.)

At the Energy Teach-In, Ella and her classmates learned about the youth-driven Atmospheric Trust Litigation from Ultimate Civics instructor Riki Ott. The students asked Riki for a follow-up class after the teach-in to learn about the youth and their case against the federal government over failure to protect the climate for their generation.

At the students’ request, Sunnyside sponsored a field trip to the federal District Court in Eugene to attend the first hearing of the Juliana v US lawsuit. Ella saw people her own age taking significant, game-changing action. She said, “Seeing kids suing the government, doing something on such a grand scale – that was very inspiring!”

Her freshman year at a new high school, Ella joined the High School Environmental Leadership Project (HELP), which was started to encourage young leaders to take action on environmental issues that matter to them. That spring, Ella and her friends discovered that the City of Portland was considering a resolution to commit Portland to 100% renewable electricity by 2035.

In reading through a draft of the proposed resolution, Ella and her friends noticed it mentioned creating a group of stakeholders who would have influence on new policies.

“Youth weren’t mentioned anywhere,” said Ella. “Obviously youth are affected by the climate crisis, so we created an amendment and proposed to the city that they include us,” she said. When Ella and other HELP members showed up at the City Council meeting to testify in favor of the resolution, the City Council members passed the amendment unanimously. “Now we are working with the City on creating the Portland Youth Climate Council.”

These experiences have been very empowering for Ella. “I learned a lot about the power of community,” she says. “At first a lot of my friends said we can’t do anything because we’re just kids. But I figured out we can do stuff. People who are influencers are actually more likely to listen to us. We are there because we care, not because we have to be there, or are getting paid to be there.”

Ella has advice for other youth who feel like they want to make a difference. “The best way to get something done is to find support from people in your community who feel passionate about the same issue. People who want to work together.”

If you would like to learn ways you can participate in civics to make a difference in your community, check out the free Activating My Democracy lessons on the Ultimate Civics website.

Ella S

LNG - Just Another Dirty Fossil Fuel

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