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Youth Commissioners Take on Climate Change

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Briefing Paper #2- Addressing Climate Change: Ideas for Youth Commissions

Climate change is increasingly an issue of concern for Californians. A majority of people in our state believe that climate change resulting from human behavior is a real threat to the state and that local governments need to do more to address this threat. Young people are more likely than older Americans to face the negative consequences of climate change, and many youth are interested in opportunities to play an active role in addressing this issue in their communities.

The Marin County Youth Commission worked with Supervisor Charles McGlashan on a recently passed county-wide ordinance for banning polystyrene (styrofoam) and plastic food packaging.

Under the ordinance, which goes into effect on January 1, 2010, and the county will begin enforcing on July 1, 2010, all restaurants, County facilities, and retail food vendors, including supermarkets, within the unincorporated areas of the county will no longer be able to provide prepared or take-out food in disposable food packaging that contains polystyrene or plastic.

The prohibited products include polystyrene foam food containers, as well as various types of plastic bowls, plates, trays, cartons, cups and straws that are not intended for reuse. The ordinance encourages retailers to instead use durable, reusable products. If durable containers are not feasible, it specifies that biodegradable packaging must be used.

The Commissioners were instrumental in conducting research and preparing a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) sheet that lists the requirements of the ordinance, explains why polystyrene and plastics are hazardous to the environment, and provides a step-by-step guide on how to switch to reusable or biodegradable packaging. The FAQ sheet is available at right under “Documents & Resources.”

The Marin County Youth Commission is currently working on a single-use bag ban.

The City of San Carlos is currently developing a climate action plan that details steps the city will take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The city held two community forums to invite residents to help prioritize possible actions that the city could take to address climate change. One of the forums was held specifically to engage teens and pre-teens in the community. Seventy-five local youth participated in discussions and exercises that educated them about climate change and allowed them to prioritize proposed actions.

The City of South Pasadena holds an annual Clean Air Car Show and Green Living Expo that draws 5000-8000 diverse attendees. The success of this event is due in large part to a dedicated group of residents who meet monthly and plan the activities and outreach. This 30 person committee includes youth commissioners working alongside interested adults to develop a program that will help educate and inspire their neighbors to take action. Teens design and carry out educational installations and demonstrations at the event as well as helping to plan and promote it. High school students in South Pasadena have also helped to raise money for a new Astroturf field by promoting a city toilet exchange program that allows residents to switch to a reduced water use toilet. Young people are also participating on a committee that is revising the city’s bicycle master plan, which aims to provide safe routes to school and other places for youth to ride their bikes.

The City of Manhattan Beach created an Environmental Task Force composed of diverse residents and city officials tasked with developing recommendations to the city council to address a range of environmental challenges, including climate change and the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In order to assure that young people would be represented, two seats on the sixteen person task force were set aside for youth members. An eighth-grader and a high school student were selected to serve alongside adult task force members, and the group has already made recommendations that were approved by the city council, including green building and water conservation measures.

Is your city or county involving youth in addressing the issue of climate change? The Institute for Local Government would like to hear your story and share your successful strategies to give young people an opportunity to participate in climate change action. Please share your story by completing a short questionnaire.

Please see this Institute resource as well as other related resources at right under “Documents & Resources.”

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