Every year Earth Island Institute’s New Leaders Initiative recognizes six young environmental activists, ages 13 to 22, from North America for their outstanding efforts to promote ecological sustainability and social justice. We’re excited to announce the recipients of this year’s Brower Youth Awards. The 2013 winners are:
Growing up southwest Brooklyn, in a community surrounded by three large power plants, Jonathan Ferrer witnessed first-hand the social and environmental injustices that put the health and well-being of his family and friends at risk. Today, Ferrer is a youth justice organizer and a core leader at United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park (UPROSE), a community-based organization that works to ameliorate the environmental burdens of the Sunset Park neighborhood. Through UPROSE, Ferrer organizes the NYC Climate Justice Youth Summit, the largest youth climate convergence in the city of New York. The summit – which features speakers, musicians, and spoken-word artists – brings together hundreds of young people for an opportunity to learn more about the social and environmental issues they face. Ferrer also facilitates community meetings through the Climate Justice Community Resilience Center, a space for community members to exchange ideas and resources on how they can take individual action. After Hurricane Sandy’s disastrous impact on Ferrer’s waterfront community, his work has taken on even more urgency.
Alex Freid was shocked by the number of perfectly good and reusable items being discarded by students during the moving-out days at the end of his freshman year at the University of New Hampshire. He learned that each May, as university students cleared out of their dorms and apartments, the amount of waste sent to the local landfill jumped from 25 tons per month to a staggering 105 tons. This inspired him to found Post-Landfill Action Network, or PLAN, a youth-led nonprofit that helps students create programs that reduce waste on campus. During the past three years, PLAN has helped divert more than 100 tons of reusable waste from landfills, donated more than 5 tons of food and clothing to local shelters, and saved the university $10,000 in waste disposal costs. Now Freid is turning PLAN into a national organization and implementing its model on other university campuses across the country. He estimates that by 2015 the program will have diverted 1,200 tons of waste from landfills.
Arielle Klagsbrun is challenging Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, and its influence in St. Louis’ politics. Inspired to participate in environmental and social activism after witnessing the devastation Hurricane Katrina wreaked on the lives of her friends, Klagsbrun began fighting Peabody Energy when she started studying at Washington University in 2009. Now a key leader with the grassroots group Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), she is working on a campaign to get the city of St. Louis to divest from Peabody. The campaign aims to educate the public about climate change and Peabody’s involvement in the warming of our planet. By building alliances and fostering communication among different constituencies, Klagsbrun has made unlikely connections with other groups fighting coal plants. MORE’s latest campaign is a “Take Back St. Louis” ballot initiative, which seeks to divest the city’s funds from fossil fuel companies and invest them in a local green economy and a sustainable future.
New England winters can be harsh, especially for those who can’t afford to heat their homes. When she was in fifth grade Cassandra Lin learned that used cooking oil could be converted into cheap, clean-burning biodiesel to heat homes. The same year, 2008, Lin founded Turn Grease Into Fuel (TGIF), a youth group that gets local restaurants to donate their kitchen grease to be recycled and shared with charities that identify families who need heating assistance. So far, Lin’s outfit has helped offset more than 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions by promoting the use of biodiesel. In 2011, Lin and her team drafted a bill that required all businesses in Rhode Island to recycle their waste cooking oil and worked with local legislators to get it approved. State lawmakers passed the Used Cooking Oil Recycling Act in June 2011 and the law went into effect in January 2012, expanding TGIF’s efforts into neighboring communities. The network of local businesses and charities that Lin and her team created is itself a well-oiled machine that addresses the needs of community members and reduces waste and pollution.
Chloe Maxmin was instrumental in getting Harvard University join the growing movement across US campuses calling for college and university administrations to divest from fossil fuels. In September 2012, after researching her university’s past divestment campaigns against apartheid in South Africa and Big Tobacco, Maxmin cofounded “Divest Harvard.” Since then she has worked on galvanizing a student and community movement to take university funds out of corporations that make money by contributing to climate change. Maxmin started out as an environmental activist at age 12 when she became an outspoken critic of a proposed development in Maine’s North Woods. In 2007 she founded the online youth network “First Here, Then Everywhere” which works to connect youth activists around the world. Maxmin’s current campaign at Harvard took advantage of a campuswide referendum in which 72 percent of voting undergraduates supported fossil fuel divestment. The referendum – along with outreach to alumni, faculty and various student groups – helped Divest Harvard secure meetings with trustees and started a new conversation about fossil fuels at the oldest university in the country.
As a student the University of Puerto Rico at Rio Piedras, Amira Odeh saw that students were buying disposable plastic water bottles because of the poor condition of water fountains on campus. Odeh had experienced the impacts of water scarcity when she was growing up in Puerto Rico’s Bayamon municipality, so she decided to try to change her peers’ wasteful habits. She spearheaded a successful campaign to get the university to install new drinking fountains in every building. She also worked to educate students about the impacts of using disposable water bottles. More students now drink tap water available for free on campus. Odeh believes her most significant accomplishment has been to get the university to commit to maintain the condition of campus water fountains and consider a proposal to ban the sale of nonreusable water bottles on campus. Odeh’s campaign is the first environmental change campaign on a Puerto Rican college campus instigated by students, instead of the university itself.
The New Leaders Initiative grows environmental leadership by raising the profile of young environmental leaders in North America, celebrating their achievements and providing them with the skills, resources, and relationships to lead effective campaigns and projects.
Save the Date!
Join us for the 14th Annual Brower Youth Awards on October 22 at the beautifully restored Nourse Theater in San Francisco. To reserve your free seat, or to purchase tickets for the VIP reception where you can meet the winners, visit www.earthisland.org/BYA2013.
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