Climate Change Conference: For A Greener Future


Courtesy of Liz Cutler

Audrey Liang, News Associate

On May 12, 2018, around 100 students from various schools around New Jersey gathered at Princeton Day School for the annual student Climate Change Conference, made possible by the Energy and Climate Scholars as well as the EnAct club of PDS.

According to Sustainability Coordinator Liz Cutler, the main goal of the conference was to generate interest and engagement that leads to activism. “Educated citizens vote with their educations…and if people don’t know about issues then they vote with their gut instead of what they know,” Ms. Cutler explained. Student and organizer Krithika Vasireddy added that she wanted to educate students about climate change and provide a place where they can share ideas, concerns, and inspiration. The environmental groups certainly reached that goal with an extremely successful conference.

The conference started out with a non-profit-organization fair in the Campus Center. It included organizations such as TerraCycle, a company that recycles materials that are conventionally not recyclable; the Watershed Institute, an organization that works to keep water clean, safe, and healthy; and the Delaware River Keepers, a non-profit membership organization that works on the issues and legislation that affect the health of the Delaware River Watershed. Vasireddy commented, “Most of the non-profits showed up and were really engaging. They had amazing presentations, and all the students seemed to be very interested…My favorites were TerraCycle, the Princeton Group. The Watershed was really fun too, [as were] the Delaware River Keepers. All of them were really cool!”

Afterward, the Energy and Climate Scholars presented their interdisciplinary research on prevalent issues in relation to the environment and another subject, like environmental politics or environmental agriculture, giving attendees a thorough understanding of these global issues before diving into local solutions.

Students were then led outside to various outdoor activities, including bamboo structuring in the garden and learning about and holding bees at the PDS beehives. Sophomore Alex DiNovi enjoyed the bamboo activity: “You can take the structure that you would usually buy and you can actually make stuff yourself in natural organic ways, which was really awesome to me.”

After staying outside for a while, students headed back inside to hear from students at other schools, including Lawrenceville and Kent Place School. These students shared interesting and diverse sustainability methods and concepts their schools utilized, ranging from healthy habits like brushing your teeth to using algae as a biofuel.

The last presentation was Delaware Riverkeeper Maya K. Van Rossum’s talk on the “Green Amendment.” Van Rossum talked about the Constitution’s lack of a Green Amendment that secured the right to pure water, clean air, and a healthy environment for the people, as well as the work of the Delaware River Keepers. Sophomore and organizer Harjap Singh said, “She was essentially promoting activism amongst everyone there. Her talk was just very inspirational.” The conference ended with small group discussions on student activism.

Ms. Cutler explained that the sequence of the presentations and activities was not random; in fact, it was very deliberate. The arc of the conference moved first from the global level to the local level, and lastly to the personal level. “One of the overarching frames of the conference [was] to start with global issues with the presentations about global issues and agriculture, technology, water, desertification, and move from that into the physical environment outdoors and climate change at our school, or the local level. The keynote speaker talked about the Green Amendment and how each one of us can act to make a difference, which ended with individual activism,” Ms. Cutler explained.

The whole conference went “without a hitch,” as Ms. Cutler described. “There isn’t a thing that I would have wanted to be better. I thought the students really organized it well. They were prepared, articulate, organized. The speakers were terrific, the nonprofit fair was a wonderful addition, the outdoor activities were great and even the rain held. I thought the keynote speaker was astounding, and everything went exactly as I hoped!” For many students, it was interesting to hear others’ perspective on sustainability and engage in hands-on activities.

In order to make the conference successful, hours of hard work were sacrificed in preparation. The organizers of the conference, which included Ms. Cutler and the Energy and Climate Scholars, started planning in January, and they have met every Thursday at lunch since. Ms. Cutler commented, “As organizers, we had to go further outside those meeting times and talk to the presenters who would come in, as well as facilitate the whole event. There was a lot of work, but in the end, it was really worth it because it was really successful.”

Everyone who attended learned from the conference, including Ms. Cutler, who declared that “high school students are capable, awesome, and articulate. If you work with them in an organized way, their creation is astounding!”