Saving the Earth Begins Early for U.S. Teens

By Andrew R. Hall
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - For Megan Waggoner, global warming is not a scientific abstraction. The secondary school student is worried the phenomenon is heating up her home state of Alaska, a place she calls “ground zero for global warming.”

Waggoner, a native of Palmer, Alaska, was one of 50 young people from across the United States recognized for their environmental activism at the President’s Environmental Youth Awards (PEYA) ceremony in Washington April 20. The annual awards program is sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and highlights creative individual and group efforts promoting environmental awareness and community involvement in recycling, energy efficiency, climate change and water conservation.

“I’ve noticed the impacts of global climate change,” Waggoner said.  “I have to take action myself and with my peers.”

The United States is shifting to a “green culture,” according to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson. Environmental stewardship has expanded beyond the EPA, and now all Americans seek to improve the environment, he added.

“Even the youngest among us can take real action to improve our world," Johnson said.

Waggoner, 16, said she was afraid global warming is melting Alaska’s icy landscape and is affecting her neighbors’ lives, Alaska’s infrastructure and the state’s economy. 

With Waggoner’s help, Alaska Youth for Environmental Action collected 5,000 teen signatures for a global warming petition that the group presented to U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

Rachel Ridge of Holladay, Utah, and her team, called Get Really Energy Efficient Now (GREEN), took the issue of smog control to Salt Lake City by launching a campaign to call on motorists to turn off their automobiles instead of idling to reduce emissions. The campaign included singing a “Stop Idling” song and distributing “Stop Turn Off and Save” stickers, the GREEN team’s logo.

“We wanted to help our environment and make people aware,” Ridge, 13, said.

A group of teens from Chandler, Arizona, formed the Arizona Water Activists Karing for the Environment (AWAKE).  The group helps fight the use of machine-made snow on ski resorts and raises awareness of water conservation, preservation and restoration.

Group member Amol Lingnurkar, 15, said Arizona’s desert-like climate was one of the reasons the group focused on water conservation issues.

“Water is one of the basic necessities and this is important for us to focus on,” Lingnurkar said.

Tayler McGillis, 12, whose recycling program in his hometown of Toluca, Illinois, collected more than 7,260 kilograms of discarded aluminum, said waste in landfills can pose a danger to wildlife.  McGillis said people should care about the environment “because if we don’t do it now, it’ll be worse in the future.”

In Oklahoma, Christina Navarro and Teresa Ezersky from Guthrie and Alex Bryan and Jessica Mackiewicz from Edmond worked with their Girl Scout troop to develop an educational program on bats and their role as pollinators.

Jami Harper of Grand Island , Nebraska, modeled the “H2Owood Squares” game teaching safe-water practices on a popular television game show Hollywood Squares.

Placida, Florida, native Alexander “Zander” Srodes started “Turtle Talks,” an educational program on sea turtles, and fifth-grade students from Crellin Elementary School in Oakland, Maryland, participated in developing the Crellin Environmental Education Lab, an outdoor classroom helping with the restoration of a nearby stream.

Gabriela McCall-Delgado of Humacao, Puerto Rico, created an awareness campaign on the birds of eastern Puerto Rico to teach local residents about the importance of preserving their habitat.

In Durham, Connecticut, an environmental organization from Coginchaug High School worked with a Boy Scout troop to form the ECO Club, an organization that started a recycling program at a local fair.

“Youth should have a strong leadership role in saving our environment because really it’s going to affect us and so we shouldn’t wait for the future,” said Smitha Ramakrishna, 15, a member of AWAKE. “We should just start now.”

The full text of a press release announcing the winners and their projects is available on the EPA Web site.