I recently went to the One Young World Environmental Summit at Arizona’s Biosphere 2. One Young World is a non-profit organization aimed at bringing together students and young professionals to create new connections and find answers to pressing challenges. A powerful message came through: While young people are one of the groups most affected by environmental problems like climate change, they are also the most innovative in terms of fighting for a better world.
A great example of this spirit are Kris and Anna, brother and sister from the native American Paiute tribe in the Owens Valley of Southern California.
Following a war between native tribes and the U.S. army in the mid-19th century, the U.S. government took control of the Paiute territory and its resources. Natives were resettled to less fertile parts of the land, and white settlers took over land and water. The Paiute became increasingly disenfranchised, especially with construction of the Los Angeles Aqueduct in the early 20th century, which diverted much of the water the tribe depended on.
But things are starting to change. Recently, documents have been discovered showing that the Paiute have used irrigation canals on the land before settlers arrived there. These documents could be the key to proving in court that the tribe has rightful ownership of the land and resources through customary land tenure. This is where Kris and Anna come in. Anna is studying law with a focus on indigenous issues to be able to better understand the legal framework and help her tribe renegotiate their water rights. Anna and Kris are also actively involved in producing a movie to raise awareness about the Paiute tribe’s struggle for water rights.
They were just two of many young people at the conference who are taking action to improve the lives of people in their communities and around the world. Komal Ahmad, for example, realized as an undergraduate at Berkeley that a ton of food at her campus was being thrown away, while some people were going hungry just a few blocks away. Food loss and waste is not just a hunger issue, it’s an environmental and economic one: WRI research shows that it is responsible for 8 percent of global GHG emissions and costs the world $940 billion a year. Komal’s solution to the problem was to create COPIA, which brings leftover food from campuses and big catering events to nearby nonprofits such as homeless shelters and food banks.
Leroy Mwasaru from Kenya started a project in his high school to generate biogas from waste and turn it into energy. He later founded a company around this idea, and has since won several big innovation prizes. He now travels around the world speaking at events like One Young World, even though he is just out of high school.
What I took with me from this event was the sense that even though we as humanity face many problems, the passion and creativity of young people all over the globe is a strong force to make the world a better place. It is a force that unites us. Getting to know others and seeing the great work they are doing is a big motivation for me to continue working on the pressing challenges of our time.