The wind rustled through foliage, and students discussed environmental issues at Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary during a cloudy Friday for the fourth Youth Climate Summit. The event was hosted by the Felix Neck Youth Climate Leadership Program, and planned and organized by Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s (MVRHS) Protect Your Environment Club.
This event is the first in-person Youth Climate Summit since 2019, according to Josie Kirk, director of Felix Neck’s Fern & Feather Nature Camp and advisor for the club.
After giving the students time to eat and mingle, the summit kicked off with welcome addresses by Kirk and Annabelle Brothers, president of the Protect Your Environment Club.
“I really hope you’re able to learn from your experiences today, and participate in our facilitated discussions,” Annabelle told the audience.
The summit’s morning activities consisted of several discussion topics spread out near the front of the sanctuary. Participants discussed a variety of climate change–related topics, such as sustainable shopping, energy transformation, and sea level rise, among many others. The format was an informal discussion that was facilitated by club members, which allowed students and climate experts to share ideas and knowledge.
MVRHS freshman Grady McCracken thought the discussion facilitators were knowledgeable about their assigned topics. He participated in the morning discussions about sea level rise, transportation and infrastructure, and decreasing carbon footprints. “I thought the sea level rise thing in the first morning session was pretty interesting,” Grady said.
Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School freshman Morgan Caruso said she was familiar with climate change issues from school, but still enjoyed the summit. She participated in the talk about native people and indigenous food sources.
“It’s pretty cool. I’ve been going to Felix Neck for a while now for camp and stuff, so I’m pretty familiar with the place,” Morgan said. “I’m glad that they’re doing it to teach us more.”
A keynote speech was given to the students by Rebecca Gilbert, owner of Native Earth Teaching Farm in Chilmark, after the morning breakout sessions. Gilbert encouraged the students to embrace and nurture their “weirdness,” and urged them to consider approaching scientific topics with feelings, rather than being impersonal about them.
“Since I started to be more honest about my weirdness, my life has gotten much better, and I believe I’ve gotten to be a more effective climate change activist as a result,” she said. “My last piece of advice is, Don’t do like I did, and wait until you’re old to speak your mind.”
Gilbert also mentioned what she learned from plants, which is written in her upcoming book “Weedy Wisdom for the Curious Forager.”
“You young people are my hope,” Gilbert concluded before taking questions.
The Times asked Annabelle and Kirk what they hoped the participating students will take with them from the summit.
Annabelle wants her peers to feel empowered to act on climate change, and encourages them to join the club. “I want them to know being young doesn’t mean you don’t have power. Being young, in a lot of ways, maybe you have more power. I think older generations love hearing from the youth, and sometimes it can be heard in a different way than when it’s just two adults arguing in some way. I think the cause can be lost, sometimes,” Annabelle said.
Kirk wants the students to leave the summit with a sense of hope and a desire to learn more.
“I think the real goal today is that kids leave here feeling hopeful, that they can play a role in protecting the community from the climate crisis,, and in turn knowing how to be a global solution as well,” Kirk said.
Morgan told The Times that breaking up the vast issue of climate change into chunks helped to ground the students and put the topic into perspective.
The summit day continued with more discussion groups and other activities, such as a composting demonstration, advocacy writing, and self-guided walks.