Cape and Islands Teens Unite for Youth Climate Action Summit

Nov 7, 2019

More than 100 students from 10 schools gathered at the Cape and Islands Youth Climate Action Summit in Harwich on Wednesday.

Students, ranging in age from 10 to 18, spent the morning learning about climate change from environmentalists, artists, and politicians, like State Senator Julian Cyr and Massachusetts Congressman Bill Keating.

Congressmen Bill Keating talks to students at the Summit.
Credit Jack McCoy

They also participated in break-out sessions on political activism, energy consumption and conservation, healthy eating, and careers in climate change.  

“I see us as being the generation who hopefully saves the world,” said Jack McCoy, a senior at Cape Cod Academy and a chapter organizer for a youth-led climate activist group called the Sunrise Movement

Niko Gentile, one of the event's student organizers, leads a break-out session.
Credit Eve Zuckoff

Later, students developed action plans for local schools to reduce their carbon footprints. This included goals to introduce reusable trays and utensils to cafeterias, ban the sale of plastic water-bottles, and get solar panels onto schools’ roofs, among other things.

“We want to have a future where we can be adults in a world with trees and oceans and not global catastrophe,” McCoy said.

Around the country, students are driving a movement around climate action, galvanized in large part by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish activist and founder of Fridays for Future, which encourages people strike against a lack of action against climate change.  

“I think the term that’s being tossed around right now is ‘climate anxiety’ and I think that characterizes a large portion of the youth across America,” McCoy said.

Eliza Hackler, a 17-year-old student at Sturgis East said she usually feels anxious about climate change, but the Summit offered new light.

“With this issue it’s hard not to be pessimistic but today felt really good just to be surrounded by kids my age who are really intelligent,” she said. “This specific planning just felt really comforting and really hopeful.”

Students leaders for the Summit gather outside in Harwich.
Credit Eve Zuckoff

Keith Lewison, a humanities teacher at Cape Cod Academy and organizer for the Summit, attributes the increase in Cape students’ climate activism to a mix of anxiety, anger, and the desire for community in an increasingly digitized world.

“They’re not political about this issue in the way adults are," Lewison said. "They’re very pragmatic.... like 'this is a big deal, it’s coming at us as we speak. Let’s get to work.'"

The event, sponsored by Mass Audubon, the Sierra Club, and the Cape Cod Theatre Company/Harwich Junior Theatre, was planned mostly by local high schoolers.

“If our generation is able to band together and work as we’ve been working,” McCoy said, “we can hopefully convince all the people in charge—and become the people in charge—and fix this.”