Local Youth Leaders Featured at Global Climate Action Symposium

Youth leaders listen to a talk at the Kendeda Building

By Selena Perrin

Published Oct 18, 2019

Local youth leaders urged climate action at the Global Climate Action Symposium, the first public event held in the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, on September 27. The symposium brought together scientists, artists, policy experts, youth leaders, and engineers to underscore the importance of climate action and discuss different approaches to climate solutions. Georgia Tech’s Global Change Program collaborated with eight European consulates based in Atlanta as part of European Climate Diplomacy Week, as well as six other Georgia Tech programs and centers, in hosting an event focused on both local and global perspectives on climate change action.

“Youth involvement in climate action is going to be the key to solving problems that will affect our future”, said Georgia Tech undergraduate Grayson Eady in a video featuring global youth activists involved in “Friday’s for Future”, a global movement encouraging climate action. In the afternoon, Serve-Learn-Sustain’s Dr. Ruthie Yow moderated a panel of student activists featuring Zeena Abdulkarim, a Political Science major at Georgia State University and co-executive director for Zero Hour Georgia; Unwanna Etuk, a graduating senior from Georgia Tech studying international sustainability and creator of the City of Woodstock's first sustainability plan; and Gwyn Rush, an International Relations major and Environmental and Sustainability Studies minor at Agnes Scott College, and founding member of the Atlanta Youth Energy Corps. These student leaders emphasized the importance of diverse voices in advancing climate justice - a central theme of their discussion. “True climate justice is reliant on the insight and liberation of every community," Zeena Abdulkarim urged.

Destiny Loyd of the Citizens' Climate Lobby presents a wooden ladder as a metaphor for the climate change challenge.
Destiny Loyd of the Citizens' Climate Lobby presents a wooden ladder as a metaphor for the climate change challenge.

Destiny Loyd, Southeast Regional Fellow for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, provided a rousing keynote presentation. “Never before in the history of humankind have we had to make changes of this scale so quickly,” she said. Holding a wooden ladder, Loyd asked the audience to imagine having to build a ladder that would save all of humanity. She then asked them to imagine building this ladder in only a few days. That is the nature of the climate challenge, Loyd argued. She later asked a young child to help her hammer an additional step onto the ladder, reinforcing her call for intergenerational cooperation to solve the climate challenge. Student attendees welcomed her messages. “She didn’t just tell us to take action,” one undergraduate remarked, “she gave us a list of things we need to do to make a difference”. Loyd presented students with a list of clubs to join, movements to rally behind, and role models to look up to. Her advice to students? “You have a voice—use it.”

Themes of interdisciplinarity, diversity, and youth involvement wove through the entire symposium. In the morning, Zachary Lancaster (PhD student, School of Architecture specializing in Design Computation, Georgia Tech), Chloé Arson (Associate Professor, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Georgia Tech); and Eri Saikawa (Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences, Emory College of Arts and Sciences) served as expert panelists on a ‘Science and Technology’ panel moderated by Beril Toktay (Professor and Faculty Director, Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, Georgia Tech). Students in the audience asked panelists how best to respond to climate skeptics and how to communicate about climate change in different cultures.

Symposium attendees socialize at a plant-forward lunch.
Symposium attendees socialize at a plant-forward lunch.

Industry and policy experts engaged in a discussion about business practices and policy instruments through a panel moderated by Michael Oxman (Managing Director, Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business, Georgia Tech). Dagmara Koska (senior diplomatic counsellor and team leader on international energy and climate policies in the Delegation of the European Union to the US), Jairo Garcia (chief executive officer, Urban Climate Nexus), John McIntyre (founder and director, Georgia Tech Center for International Business Education and Research (CIBER) and professor, Georgia Tech), Brian O’Hara (senior vice president of strategy and government affairs, Strata Solar), and Brent Trenga (building technology director, Kingspan North America) served as panelists. Past participants of the Carbon Reduction Challenge, a summer contest at Georgia Tech where students identify and execute a plan to reduce the carbon footprint of partnering businesses and other organizations, corporations and businesses, engaged the panel in a conversation about how students can build their careers in climate solutions.

A temporary art installation featuring photos from Shannon Davis and Virginie Drujon-Kippelen featured on the railings of the building.
A temporary art installation of photos from Shannon Davis and Virginie Drujon-Kippelen featured on the railings of the building.

Participants took in the beauty and innovation of the Kendeda building and socialized over a plant-forward lunch. A temporary art installation hung from the walls and railings of the building featuring photos from Shannon Davis (conceptual photographer, creative director and adjunct professor, Savannah College of Art and Design) and Virginie Drujon-Kippelen (documentary and fine art photographer) called “Urban Wilderness + Man-Made Nature”, documenting the balance between Atlanta’s rapid urbanization and the need to preserve ecological and cultural resources.

The final event of the day featured a discussion with artists Pierre Cassou-Noguès (philosopher and professor, University of Paris 8), Gwenola Wagon (artist and assistant professor, University of Paris 8), Erin Jane Nelson (artist), and Guy Gabon (eco-artist, designer, and filmmaker), moderated by Anna Stenport (Chair and Professor, School of Modern Languages and Founding co-Director, Atlanta Global Studies Center, Georgia Tech). Panelists showcased their unique approaches to representing climate change in their artwork, as writers, filmmakers, sculptures, painters, photographers, and mixed-media artists, detailing how each artist told a climate story through their work.

This symposium marks a significant step forward in engaging youth and community members both at Georgia Tech, and in the broader Georgia community. The Georgia Climate Conference, held Nov. 7-8, will build on the topics discussed at the symposium. Hosted by the Georgia Climate Project, the conference will bring together nearly 400 leaders and experts from the public, private, non-profit, and academic sectors to discuss past, present, and future opportunities for climate action in Georgia.

A group of leaders engage in discussion under the unique architecture of the Kendeda Building.
A group of leaders engage in discussion under the unique architecture of the Kendeda Building.

Missed the symposium? A video of the entire event is linked here. A photo album of the event can also be found here.

To learn more about the speakers and panelists involved in the symposium, read their biographies here. Other Georgia Tech partners included the Office of International Initiatives; the Center for Serve-Learn-Sustain; the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business; the Center for European and Transatlantic Studies; the Center for International Strategy, Technology, and Policy; and the Atlanta Global Studies Center.