Summit Participant: “My generation must fix the problems of the world”

11/12/11 by Kathy Chaffin

Claudia Meyer left the Redesigning Our Future National Environmental Summit for High School Students this summer with a sense of urgency about the planet that she didn't have before.

“I realized that it's going to be my generation that's going to have to fix so many problems in the world,” she says. “We can't put it off.”

Meyer was among high school juniors and seniors from across the nation who participated in the summit held by the Center for the Environment at Catawba College in partnership with Rocky Mountain Institute in Colorado.

A junior at Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, Meyer addressed that concern in an editorial she wrote as part of the summit's climate change focus group led by Dr. Jim Beard, professor of chemistry at Catawba College: “No one ever wants to live in fear of what tomorrow holds. However, if we do not look into what the world holds for our future generations, life as we know it on Earth now could be destroyed ...”

When people hear about global warming, Meyer says they think it's just the world temperatures rising “and it doesn't seem that extreme.” But after hearing and researching the actual data in the focus group, she says she realized that wasn't true.

Dr. Constance Rogers-Lowery, an associate professor of biology at the college, also helped with the group, presenting effects of climate change on the ocean and the actual physiology of organisms living in the water.

Since returning home, Meyer says she has become more environmentally conscious and tries to do her part to help save the planet. In her editorial, which she hopes to eventually submit to The News and Observer in Raleigh as a letter to the editor, she wrote about the difference that one person can make:

“Inaction is a dark cloud hanging over the imminent global warming disaster,” she wrote. “While Congress is certainly obligated to take quick action against the use of fossil fuels in the near future, significant change to the rate of man-made climate change lies in the hands of individuals.”

After hearing Dr. John Wear, executive director of the Center, talk about how the Campaign for Clean Air staff is helping middle schools start no idling programs, she says she now cuts off her vehicle while waiting in line to pick up her younger sister in school. “I'm also working with our school's environmental club president to try to get the no idling program started there,” she says.

Having grown up in an environmentally-conscious family – her mother is the executive director of the Federation for Earth Science Information Partners, a collaborative effort of earth scientists and data information professionals designed to educate the public – Meyer says she has always recycled, but became even more diligent about the practice after attending the summit.

She also gained more confidence in discussing environmental issues with her mother and the scientists she partners with in her work. “I feel like I can communicate with them and understand what they're trying to do,” she says.

Because she was able to communicate one-on-one with Center and Rocky Mountain Institute staff as well as Catawba officials and professors involved with the summit, Meyer says she is now more comfortable talking with teachers and adults in general.

“I could talk to Dr. Wear,” she says. “He seemed really knowledgeable and passionate about what he's doing, and he just always seemed so happy and excited that we were there.”

Meyer says she also felt comfortable talking with Dr. Beard and other professors and Catawba officials as well as the Catawba students who served as counselors for the summit. “I think we felt like equals,” she says. “It was easy to discuss our opinions.”

The size of the summit was ideal, Meyer says, because it was small enough so that all the participants could become friends. They have been able to communicate with each other since then on a 2011 Redesigning Our Future Facebook page set up by Center staff.

“We were all added as soon as we got accepted,” she says, “so we got a chance to talk to each other before we got there.”

Meyer says she also communicates personally with friends she met at the summit, including students from California, Georgia and Pennsylvania.

Meyer, who is interested in going to medical school after college, says she plans to encourage other students at her school to attend the campus well as her younger sister when she is old enough. She also hopes to encourage her fellow students to become more concerned about the environment.

As president of the debate club, for example, Meyer says she plans to suggest global warming as a topic so students can learn more about the severity of the problems addressed in her editorial:

“Global climate change has certainly lost focus in both the political and educational world,” she wrote. “Yet, lack of airtime on the news is no sign that climate change is not an urgent matter. Every day the climate changes a little, and if America continues to use fossil fuels and practice energy inefficiency, our country is in for a rough few centuries, more disastrous than any event on the news in the past few years ...”

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