Apr 2, 2018
By Jonah Raskin
The summit is coming. No, it’s not a meeting of government officials. There will be no presidents, prime ministers and plutocrats in attendance, but rather students and teachers who care about climate change, sustainability and resilience, not just in the classroom as an academic exercise, but also in “real life,” as educators like to call it.
The all-day, “One Planet Youth Summit” takes place on Saturday, April 14, at Credo High School in Rohnert Park. Jake Mackenzie, Rohnert Park’s mayor and the chair of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission will speak, and so will representatives of groups and organizations that care about a green future.
But for the most part, the speakers and presenters will be students and teachers, not politicians, public office holders and entrepreneurs.
Marika Ramsden, a teacher at Credo, is one of the primary movers and shakers behind the summit, which aims to increase awareness about the need for recycling, restoration of the natural world and the creation of green schools, green towns and green communities. Born in California and educated in England from age two to age 16, Ramsden attended the Summerfield Waldorf School in Santa Rose. She has a degree in sustainable development from St. Andrews in Scotland.
“Students need to understand the gravity of the current local and global situation, but only talking about doom and gloom is disempowering for youth,” she told me. “Asking students to have hope isn’t enough, either. It’s necessary to give them skills, information and knowledge so that they can have active hope and actually do stuff.”
At Credo High School, seventh-to-twelfth graders learn about composting, recycling and landfill. They also collect and analyze their own trash, and then do research about alternatives to the current ways humans handle garbage. At Credo, “zero waste” is a guiding principle and a part of the curriculum.
Ramdsen calls the movement that she is in the process of creating, “One Planet.” She hopes to spread it around the world. Not long ago, she bicycled from one end of California to the other and brought her environmental message to 30 schools. She also bicycled from Land’s End, at the southern-most tip of England, to John o’ Groats, at the northern-most tip of Scotland. She gave workshops along the way, provided students with video cameras and asked them to tell the story of sustainability in their own schools.
All that experience on the road makes her eminently suited to encourage a major paradigm shift. Indeed, what she’d like most of all would be for humans to work close to where they live and shop. She also wants to help create communities in which everyone knows his and her neighbors.
Meanwhile, the One Planet Youth Summit is at the top of her list of things to do. Local organizations, such as the Sonoma Ecology Center, Recology, the waste hauler, and The Switch Lab, will take part in the daylong event that includes a break for lunch.
The Switch Lab’s website says, We are striving to build and market useful, sporty, safe, affordable electric vehicles while advancing electric vehicle education to create green employment locally and globally.
Sponsors of the summit include Sustainable North Bay, theCalifornia International Studies Project, and Bioregional, an international environmental organization created by Pooran Desai and Sue Riddlestone, a husband and wife team who inspired Marika Ramsden to create the “One Planet” movement.”
We’re sending out an SOS,” Ramsden told me, and added that “The Earth is our ship; we all have to save it.
Caitlyn Thomasson will attend the summit. A 21-year-old- environmental-studies major at Santa Rosa Junior College, she said that not long ago she looked at the world and saw one big mess: species decline, deforestation, glaciers melting, oceans rising, loss of land, overpopulation and over consumption.
Not surprisingly, she felt depressed. Then she took a class on environmental science that she says charged her life. She studied in New Zealand and Australia, returned to Sonoma County, created the Eco Leaders Club at SRJC, and recruited people in her own generation.
“I used to go to events about the environment and was the only young person there,” she said. “I felt like an outlier and wondered ‘where are my people?’ Now there are many more who are my age.”
Teachers who are involved with the One Planet Youth Summit aim to help empower students. “We don’t want to be sages on the stage, but guides on the side,” Ramsden said. “It’s essential for student voices to be heard.”
At the summit, they will be loud and clear and inspiring.
Jonah Raskin is a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University.
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