Every year Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative recognizes six young environmental activists from North America for their outstanding efforts to promote a healthier and more just world. We are excited to announce the recipients of this year’s awards.
Over the past two years, high-school senior Raghav Kalyanaraman has worked with youth volunteers to restore North Texas’ Blackland Prairie Ecosystem. Less than 0.001 percent of the prairie’s tall grass ecosystem has survived development and agricultural land conversion. But what is left sustains over 500 species of native plants and animals, mitigates soil erosion, and absorbs water that feeds local aquifers.
Kalyanaraman has led the restoration of 5 acres of this prairie land at the Heard Natural Science Museum and Wildlife Sanctuary, a process that involved clearing the land of nonnative and overrepresented native species and planting native wildflowers and grasses. His team also mitigated soil erosion on Blackland prairie trails by installing 118 waterbars, to divert water away from trails and towards vegetated areas, and built enclosures for dwindling native box turtle populations. Earlier this year, he founded the nonprofit Eagles For Environment to unite his community around prairie restoration work.
When she was in eighth grade, Lauren UC Ejiaga created a science fair project on the impact of ozone depletion on Louisiana’s marsh grasses that won a top prize at the national STEM competition, Broadcom masters. That win made her realize that spreading awareness of environmental issues is just as important as researching them. So she decided to start working to educate her peers.
As a cohort leader for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana, Ejiaga founded multiple native plant restoration projects. She also founded an initiative to foster interest in STEM education and coastal protection among youth through a series of ongoing workshops called the Conservation and Restoration Conjunction.
In 2018 Ilana Cohen cofounded the New York City chapter of the national youth climate justice coalition, Zero Hour, and organized one of the nation’s first Youth Climate March. As a first-year student at Harvard University, she helped relaunch the Divest Harvard campaign, which secured a historic victory last fall when the university pledged to divest its $53 billion endowment from the fossil fuel industry.
Cohen has since cofounded the Fossil Free Research, an international campaign uniting students, academics, and experts against the toxic influence of Big Oil money on climate change research. The campaign aims protect the academic freedom of researchers as their work ultimately influences the climate discourse and policy. Already, Fossil Free Research has published an open letter signed by more than 740 academics endorsing its call, staged an international direct action to hold major universities accountable, and formed a coalition to coordinate efforts across college campuses.
Save the Date: Join us for the 2022 Brower Youth Awards celebration on October 18 at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley, CA. To register, visit: broweryouthawards.org.
Amara Ifeji recognized early on that her passion for the environment was something those in marginalized communities like her own often had little opportunity to explore. So, in 2018, she started facilitating environmental learning opportunities for fellow students of color at her high school. Ifeji went on to become one of the directors of the Maine Environmental Changemakers Network, an intergenerational group of 400-plus youth from diverse backgrounds that advocates for a more just, inclusive, and equitable environmental movement.
In 2021, Ifeji coordinated Maine’s first-ever climate education summit focused on hearing young people’s vision for a climate-literate Maine. Ifeji has helped create and implement a bill that funds more than $2 million for climate education in the state.
Hamid Torabzadeh has been working to expand youth and young adults’ roles in alleviating human suffering in the face of increasing climate and public health disasters.
Torabzadeh currently leads the American Red Cross Los Angeles readyteens Program, which provides interactive programs to high school students in Los Angeles County, and throughout American Red Cross national networks. The programs educate youth on disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. readyteens trains youth in cpr/First Aid, triage, emergency communications, and more, with a focus on Red Cross-identified “vulnerable communities” where youth have the greatest likelihood of facing climate-related emergencies due to historic discrimination, geographic location, and socioeconomic conditions.
Torabzadeh has helped the program reach 10,000-plus youth volunteers in the US, train some 350 high school students in LA, and educate 1,000-plus households in Los Angeles County on fire and earthquake safety.
Annika Weber has been involved in environmental activism since she joined her school’s “green team” in third grade. In middle school, she helped set up an urban farm, and in high school she was part of two youth-led climate justice organizations. But as burnout among youth activists became widespread, Weber saw the need for a group that coordinated youth passion with adult experience for sustained, tangible results. So in early 2021, she cofounded the Northwest School Carbon Neutrality Task Force, a group of students, parents, and faculty who researched how her high school could become carbon neutral by 2030.
The task force surveyed the community, collected baseline data, and prepared a report, which it presented to school leadership last winter. Her school is now in the final process of adopting the task force’s recommendations, and could soon be the first K-12 school in the country to set a carbon neutrality goal that doesn’t use carbon offsets.
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