Over eighty students from across New Jersey gathered on Saturday, May 11 to attend the Next Gen Climate Summit at the Watershed Institute. The conference was organized and hosted by the PDS EnAct Club and Energy & Climate Scholars in partnership with The Princeton University Energy & Climate Scholars and The Watershed Institute, with the aim of educating and mobilizing attendees on issues related to climate change and sustainability, while fostering a sense of appreciation for nature.
"It was incredible to be with many individuals who all cared deeply about a common cause," said Harjap Singh '20. "I learned so much from my peers and from the presenters. The Summit offered a platform for many of us to get involved and take action."
In the morning, students participated in a United Nations simulation, acting as representatives of different countries while negotiating for hours with one another in an attempt to create climate plans that could prevent the world from warming over 2.0 degrees Celsius in the next century.
Krithika Vasireddy '20 said, "I loved seeing everyone get involved in and excited about the simulation game. Having two people present who had actually gone to the COP21 and COP24 (United Nations Conference of the Parties meetings in 2015 and 2018) was amazing, because they made the game as similar to the real conference as possible."
"My favorite part of the conference," commented Yishi Wang '21, "is the fact that there was a team of fossil fuel company lobbyists in the climate simulation game. It really showed how important it is to view an issue from different perspectives." George Ma '21 agreed, "My favorite part about the conference was that it took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to think about climate change from so many different angles."
After eating a wonderful lunch (generously donated by local businesses) and speaking with representatives from six local environmental non-profits, students attended workshops ranging from a 50-minute climate journalism seminar to an eco-justice presentation. There were also small group presentations given by high school student to other high school students.
Keynote speaker Lisa Pellegrino from Terracycle delivered an inspiring presentation filled with original songs and messages of empowerment. Ellie Schofield '20 remarked, "The keynote was one of the most incredible presentations I have ever witnessed. Ms. Pellegrino introduced us to new ideas and new angles from which to look at these issues—made all the more compelling by her vibrant presentation and personality. She also spoke about how reverting to old ways that emphasized durability and convenience (like the milkman and glass bottles) might help us to create a more sustainable world."
To conclude the day, students split into groups that went outside to participate in activities centered around remembering what they are all so passionate about: the earth. Zaiya Gandhi '20 noted, "Students really enjoyed the interactive activities at the Watershed. One of my friends mentioned that she got the chance to hold and release a butterfly into the butterfly garden!"
At the conclusion of the summit, Zoe Rivera '20 remarked, "My hometown is sinking. Your hometown is sinking. Our hometown is sinking. And it is up to us, only us and all of us, to lift it."
PDS Faculty advisor Liz Cutler reflected, "I loved watching the student leadership team who organized the Summit run the event like a well-oiled machine. They are passionate, high energy, and their leadership gives me hope for the future. It is young people like these who will find the solutions to the wickedly complex environmental problems that face us."
– Reporting contributed by Eric Leung '20, photos by Yishi Wang '21 and Alex Glezer '21