Youth express mix of optimism, frustration at UN Climate Change Conference |

Youth express mix of optimism, frustration at UN Climate Change Conference

Kaydee Barker, a 2009 Soroco High School graduate and now Colorado State University sustainability student, took part in a side panel discussion at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.
Courtesy photo

Among the approximately 40,000 people and world leaders attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow that wraps up Friday, two have ties to Routt County.

Colorado State University ecosystems science and sustainability student Kaydee Barker, a graduate of Soroco High School, was a panelist during a Nov. 3 conference session as a fellow for the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education, which is funded by the National Science Foundation.

Barker spoke on a panel comprised of university students who talked about optimism, action and empowerment in the face of climate change.

“Our problems are big, but we are not helpless. And there are things we can do,” Barker told the audience. “It’s been really cool to see how students can be agents of change and how that can translate into the community, because, hopefully, the community is taking note and saying, ‘Hey, together we can do more, and we can do something.’”

Barker said CSU students have worked to be agents of change on campus and in Fort Collins to push for more renewable energy use, create pollinator habitats, add compost bins around campus and increase the use of reusable containers. Barker co-hosts a podcast called “Living Future,” with a goal to communicate about environmental science and sustainability, and “really what we can all do in order to ensure a livable future,” she said.

Before deciding to attend CSU, Barker, 30, spent years traveling with her husband as a writer and business consultant, where she saw the effects of climate change firsthand viewing ecosystems being destroyed and people struggling to adjust and survive.

“There’s some frustrating and disheartening parts of COP26 (the climate conference), but I think the real power for change is in the individuals that come together for our common goals, share knowledge across our cultures and implement actions on the ground and in our local communities,” Barker said. “That’s what has been amazing at COP26 is the opportunity for this exchange and to hear about localized adaptation strategies and movements around the world.”

Steamboat Springs resident Eric Washburn took part in nongovernmental organization meetings in Glasgow. He operates Windward Strategies that provides consulting services for nonprofit, corporate and government relations firms for clean energy and natural resources conservation.

Washburn attended on behalf of client Plug Power, an integrated green hydrogen company, and he participated in policy discussions about how hydrogen made using renewable energy can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in sectors, such as steel making, cement production, aviation, maritime shipping and vehicles.

The father of two local teenage sons, Washburn said his biggest takeaway from the conference is the strain between youth and older politicians. He said his experiences so close to the climate debate were “sobering.”

“My dominant impression of COP26 is the growing generational tension between young people from all over the world who fear that in their lifetimes, the planet will become increasingly unlivable, and those politicians who are much older and are struggling to make the commitments needed to reduce emissions fast enough to prevent the worst from happening,” Washburn said via email from Scotland.

“For so many of these young people, this is a growing existential threat that they will live with for their lives,” Washburn said. “They are seeing political leaders make promises that they view as inadequate to protect their futures. They are also very skeptical that those same political leaders will follow through and actually do what is necessary to meet those pledges.”

Washburn said early this week that delegates from many countries are promising to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, led by Europeans, Americans, the United Kingdom and a handful of other nations. Russia and China are looking to do so by 2060. India has pledged the same by 2070.

“If this remains the case, then young people know they can expect a lot more warming, sea level rise, droughts and dramatic storms in the decades to come,” said Washburn, who lived on a ranch outside of Phippsburg in the 1970s before moving to the East Coast. He earned a master’s degree at Yale University and later co-founded the nonprofit organization Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership.

Washburn said the “few pockets of optimism” he sees relate to advances in the cost and effectiveness of clean energy technologies.

“And in the expectation that these young people will eventually themselves become political leaders in their countries and will sharply increase the level of commitment to addressing this problem,” he added.

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