Idaho Students, Global Action
Natural resources students are on the front lines of international climate change discussions
University of Idaho College of Natural Resources graduate students Hannah Smith and Jill Leaness have a message for young people who care about climate change: you can be involved, and you can have fun doing it.
Smith and Leaness went to Paris in December 2015 to attend events related to the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which culminated in landmark Paris Agreement, with the main goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius in the 21st century.
“The Paris Agreement is awesome, but it’s only a starting point for sure. We have to put it into action,” Leaness said.
And, Smith added, the people now in their teens, 20s and early 30s are key to making that action happen.
“I think the reason youth have so much potential is we’re fighting for our own lives, and to have the sort of lives we want, in a way that promotes justice to all people,” she said. “It’s about being able to provide a future.”
Smith, a first-year doctoral student in natural resources and society, and Leaness, a master’s student in environmental science, were each at the conference with organizations that specifically work to involve young people.
Leaness was one of eight student delegates from across the United States representing the American Chemical Society. She began blogging about the climate conference in September and met with officials in Washington, D.C., in October. During the conference itself, she attended public and private sessions and promoted them on the blog, Instagram and Twitter.
Sharing ideas and information over the Internet created a global community, Leaness said. “We use social media as a platform to increase climate change literacy among the student population.”
Smith participated in the conference’s largest side event, the Global Landscapes Forum. She worked with the group at the 2014 U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru, and was invited to design and deliver a five-day event for young people in Paris.
The event was modeled on the TV show “Shark Tank” and featured five international teams pitching solutions to climate-driven agricultural or environmental problems to a team of potential investors known as the Dragon’s Den. Smith said the event not only generated interest from investors, but also allowed attendees to connect, share their experiences and get excited about making a difference.
“There’s 70 from people from all over the world, from all different countries, who have had a chance to come together for a week and really mindmeld,” she said.
Representing their Home
Leaness and Smith enjoyed the opportunity to learn about how climate change affects their peers around the globe, and to represent the United States and Idaho.
Leaness, who plans to work overseas after she graduates, said she was particularly struck by how many young people in other countries were involved in combating climate change, despite having limited access to advanced degrees.
“We’ve had awesome opportunities to continue our education, to do this research, and I think it’s important that we use our opportunities, that we use our degrees, to fight,” she said.
Smith, who is originally from Boise, came to UI so she could “be on the front lines of facing climate change in Idaho.” She encouraged other UI students to take advantage of any chance they get to step up and get involved.
“Sometimes people think, ‘I live in this rural state, I don’t know much about the international world,’ ” she said. “It doesn’t mean you’re not going to do something. You should try.”