Schwarzenegger Institute & Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award Spotlight Young People & Climate

On November 4th, the USC Schwarzenegger Institute and the Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award co-hosted a spotlight session on “Young People and Climate Action.” The session featured a panel of environmental experts and young climate champions who have dedicated their studies and careers to fighting climate change. The panel was moderated by the USC Schwarzenegger Institute’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Francisca Martinez. 

The event began with introductions by Elizabeth Higgins-Beard, CEO to Award USA, and Victoria Selano, Director of Development to Duke of Edinburgh Canada. Higgins-Beard and Selano were excited to share this was the first in a series of virtual events that will continue over the next year and focus on various topics that are most important to the next generation of leaders. For the launch of the spotlight series, they decided to focus on the biggest existential threat young people are currently facing: climate change. They also hosted their first event concurrently with COP26, in which people from all around the world are meeting in Glasgow to discuss how best to address this global crisis.

After an overview of the event, Francisca Martinez provided some background on her work at the Schwarzenegger Institute and the importance of climate action and communication. Martinez is an expert on environmental policy and works with former State Senator and Schwarzenegger Institute Environmental Policy Director, Fran Pavley, on the planning and implementation of all climate and environment related initiatives at the Schwarzenegger Institute. She said that one of the most important things she has learned at the Schwarzenegger Institute is that communication is key when trying to get people involved in climate action. Many people are overwhelmed by the complicated science terms and measurements that are often used to describe climate change but when you talk about something people are familiar with, like pollution, they start to understand the impact it has on their lives and are inspired to take action. This sentiment always seemed to ring true to the panelists.

Martinez began the panel discussion by asking the panelists about what inspired them to get involved in climate action. The panelists included Madeleine Bouton, the US Manager at blueEnergy, an organization working to unlock access to renewable energy, safe water, sanitation, hygiene, and regenerative food security in the face of a changing climate; Brianna Simmons, a Marine Biology major at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island; Shanjeevan Amalanathan, co-founder of OceanBiome, a community of talents with a focus on ocean research to map the path to engaging in ocean protection to enable the next generation of leaders to engage in ocean literacy and stewardship to become ocean ambassadors in Sri Lanka; and Jason Pang, a 3rd-year student at the University of British Columbia working on his Bachelor of Science in Global Resource Systems. Not surprisingly, both Simmons and Amalanathan said that seeing the oceans they grew up near being polluted and neglected inspired them to get involved in climate action. Bouton and Pang were also inspired by their surroundings to become active in combating climate change. Bouton said she was inspired by all the great work her community was doing and Pang said he was inspired when he heard the stories of immigrants in his community who had fled their home country because of climate change catastrophes. 

In addition to asking about their background and work, Martinez also asked the panelists about how they deal with imposter syndrome and the sometimes pessimistic outlook people can have when addressing climate change. All four panelists gave inspiring answers, often saying that keeping sight of their purpose encouraged them to keep going. No matter how big or small, the action of one person can help make a difference and when you combine all the small actions together, you start to make systematic change.

Martinez ended the event on this positive note, saying she was inspired by how much work the panelists were doing at such a young age to combat climate change. Like the panelists, she encouraged the listeners to get involved as well and stay positive in the fight against pollution.