Warming up the youth

Local teens teach teens about climate change

Sam Friedman (left) and Conti Kolokotronis before the big event.

Sam Friedman (left) and Conti Kolokotronis before the big event.

Photo By Sena Christian

For more information about Inconvenient Youth, check out www.inconvenientyouth.org.

The guys weren’t nervous, even though it was their first time onstage giving a presentation to more than 1,000 students about global warming.

Conti Kolokotronis and Sam Friedman—both high-school students in Sacramento—trained at Stanford University for a weekend this past summer to learn how to educate other teenagers about climate change, an issue neither of them fully grasped only a few months ago.

“My parents always talked about global warming, but I never really knew what it was. It’s a real issue,” said Friedman, 16, a junior at Rio Americano High School.

And any potential nerves had been replaced by feeling empowered with knowledge. The teenagers are part of Inconvenient Youth, a nonprofit network by and for teens that tours the United States to raise awareness about global warming and inspire the young generation to do what they can to help stop and reverse humanity’s role in fueling it.

Founded this year by four teenagers in Menlo Park, Calif., the program trains teens to teach a youth-focused version of the “An Inconvenient Truth” presentation, originally created by former Vice President Al Gore. Altogether, the students will make stops in 36 cities; later this month, Friedman and Kolokotronis (son of prominent local developer Sotiris Kolokotronis) will give the presentation to inner-city youth in Chicago.

Both guys heard about the program from their college counselor and network chairman Rick Singer and thought, why not? The program seemed like a cool thing to try—and important, too.

“I was conscious of global warming, but I never really looked into it,” said Kolokotronis, 15, a sophomore at Jesuit High School. This program opened his eyes.

He hopes it will do the same for his peers.

“We could do so much better for the environment, but we’ve been living like this for so long, and people don’t want to change,” said Ryan Morris, a sophomore at Rosemont High School who, along with students from Grant Union, C.K. McClatchy and Kennedy high schools, attended the event at Hiram Johnson High School in late September.

From the stage, Kolokotronis and Friedman discussed two main causes of global warming: carbon and coal emissions. They explained how temperature rise directly relates to carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, and how hotter oceans lead to more natural disasters and more hot days increase the occurrence of forest fires. They showed slides of splitting ice shelves, reduced habitat for polar bears and rising sea levels; and talked about how higher temperatures have caused large bodies of water to evaporate, such as what happened to Lake Chad—the life source for the people of the Darfur region of Sudan.

The students listed reasons why we’re in this current mess, including population growth, noting how the world housed 2.3 billion people in 1945, then 6.56 billion in 2007 and is expected to support 9.1 billion by 2050. Population growth will mean a greater need for natural resources. Another problem, they said, has been our way of thinking and misconceptions about climate change. Although scientists expressed no doubt that global warming is real in 928 peer-reviewed scientific articles, until recently the media has told a different story, as if the issue remained up for debate.

The teens appealed to the idealism of youth by mentioning how something that seems overwhelmingly out of our control might actually not be, as shown by the Little Rock Nine, who struggled to end racial segregation in public schools, and African-Americans who fought for the right to vote.

“They protested, they rallied, they made noise,” Kolokotronis said.

After the presentation, a thousand teenagers made some noise with the help of girl band KSM, who travels in a tour bus run on biodiesel, advertises on posters made from recycled paper and sells fan T-shirts of organic fiber.

“Global warming is the biggest problem of our generation, and our parents hurt the Earth, and now we have to protect it,” Friedman said before he stepped onstage. “And at the rate stuff’s happening, we have to do something every day.”

Both guys agreed that the alternative of doing nothing, well, that’s something to be nervous about.