NYC Youth Speak Out About Environmental Issues 2: UN Commission on Sustainable Development


In February 2011, the Human Impacts Institute (Hii) led a workshop for 80 youth involved in the LIFTT program at the Intrepid Museum. LIFTT–Leadership Institute For Today and Tomorrow–is a leadership program for NYC youth entering their junior year of high school. Hii’s role in the program is to train youth in environmental leadership, community development, documenting and interviewing community members to foster social change.

Participating youth were given key environmental topics to discuss: Transportation, Mining, Chemicals, Waste Management, and Sustainable Consumption and Management. Topics were chosen based upon the issues being discussed at the 2011 UN Commission on Sustainable Development, to be held in NYC in May. Youth were asked to relate these topics being discussed on an international level to their local communities. Youth brainstormed ways in which these topics relate to them, their community, and how they can play a role in alleviating some of negative impacts related to these environmental issues.

What did the youth have to say? They certainly aware of the harmful effects these issues can have on their environment and their health. After introducing the topics, participants split up into groups to assess their contributions and brainstorm potential solutions. For example, student contributions in the realm of “chemicals” included excessive car use, purchasing non-organic foods that may have been grown with pesticides, and using toxic cleaning supplies. Some of the most significant and popular solutions included reducing their impact on the environment by using public transportation, consuming less, recycling, and informing the NYC community on these issues.

These solutions are an efficient start, but what motivates these youth to help? The main reasons included spreading awareness to their family & friends, informing others about environmental issues that affect them, and promoting a healthier environment.

The last challenge was for the kids to create some questions they would like to ask people in NYC communities about these issues. In the spring, the Human Impacts Institute will be providing an opportunity for LIFTT youth to hit the streets and facilitate interviews involving NYC community-members. Youth will venture out in small groups and ask them questions that they created in the previous workshop.

And what are effective interview questions for fostering sustainable community change? Participating youth chose to engage community members through personal connections, such as: “Does it bother you to see waste on your block?” and “How do you think transportation can be improved?” Using select questions, LIFTT youth will create short videos to report their opinions on these environmental topics and relating them to their lives and their community. Select youth will also join Hii, representing youth in NYC about these issues, and participate in the Youth Caucus at the UN Commission on Sustainable Development in May. Hii is looking forward to the upcoming events and presentation of the youths’ final products in an open-to-the-public exhibition in May.

By Melissa Mitchell, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Education Intern

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