Issues like taxes and education have been dominating political ads and campaigns. But climate change is on many people’s minds, too, especially with a recent report that says climate change will soon have dire consequences if humans fail to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions. And a dozen teens in the Milwaukee area are stepping up to push for climate change action.
Its curriculum teaches teens about climate science and how to advocate for climate policy and environmental protections to combat it. The students also learn how to communicate effectively about the polarizing issue.
The group meets at Escuela Verde, a charter high school that makes its home in a repurposed factory above Milwaukee’s Menomonee Valley. Most of the kids didn’t know one another. They come from different sides of town, attend different schools. But they're thrown together because of a shared concern: climate change.
Megan Hart applied to be part of the fellowship after learning about it on Instagram.
“It looked like it wasn’t anything that had an agenda … It was just people who want to get together and talk about climate change and I thought that would be really cool,” Hart says.
Participants commit to meet every Thursday from 5-7 p.m. for six months. Hart, a senior at Arrowhead High School, travels the furthest but says it’s worth the 30-minute drive.
“I think just coming to this school, Escuela Verde, is super cool because where I live in Hartland, we kind of live in a bubble … So this type of stuff really helps me see what the actual world is like and what different people are like and what they think about different issues and how it affects them differently,” Megan adds, “I think that’s really important.”
Plus, she says, "I want to help because everyone is going to be affected, every single person. So if we don't start changing what we're doing now, then our children and their children are going to have a really hard time on the planet trying to survive."
ACE follows a tech-outreach model. Fellows first reach out to family and friends — by email or phone — asking them to vote for candidates they hope will act on climate issues.
Hart has already jumped into phase two, talking not texting.
“Because I think people watch the news, get the wrong idea or they aren’t interested, but if you talk to people ... people have more of an obligation to listen to you,” she explains.
Hart admits she’s experienced pushback — including from members of her own family.
“Oh yeah, especially when they’re so set in their ways. But yeah, in school and stuff is a big place,” she adds, “But I don’t let it bother me.”
Recent Milwaukee Academy of Science graduate Hailey Tyra jumped at the chance of joining the ACE program.
Tyra's confident environmental work will be central, as he puzzles out his career path. Throughout high school, he worked on conservation crews — building trails and removing invasive plants.
“Ever since I was about 15, working in green space jobs. I already know the bad that comes with climate change. I know what it’s about, and now I have the opportunity to do something about it,” Tyra says.
He says it's been eye-opening to witness how climate change has affected people for years and "nobody is really doing anything about it. So for us being young, if we start now, fighting against it, we can do it. If we all fight together as an alliance."
Seventeen-year-old Ian Martinez wants to learn as much about climate change as possible so he can start having conversations about it.
But while the ACE program pivots on the power of voting to combat climate change, Martinez is grappling with other perspectives.
“I’ve been told that voting doesn’t affect it, but I’ve also been told it’s a decoy, so people don’t vote for a certain candidate. I’m not really sure, I’m sort at both ends of the spectrum,” Martinez says.
Fifteen-year-old Timothy Rauworth cares fiercely about voting, “If we have the privilege to vote for somebody who is going to change the world we should,” and as fiercely about doing something about climate change.
“We’re the voices of the earth right now. We’re the people who will be standing up to climate change over time. We’re also the people who will raise children who will be the new generations and those new generations should have the same opportunity to see this amazing earth,” Rauworth says.
ACE fellowship coordinator August Ball marvels at the teens’ courage and commitment.
“They care that much about their future, about climate change, and they know that they have the most to lose if we don’t shift our ways. They also understand the most to gain from addressing and solving climate change,” Ball says.
No matter who wins on Nov. 6, the fellows plan to visit elected officials to discuss their commitment to advance climate policy.
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