FOREST LAKE — Annica Stiles thinks a lot about climate change. The Forest Lake junior is an active member of her school's environment club and plans to declare a major in environmental humanities when she gets to college next fall. Climate change, she said, is the defining issue of her generation, and it's on her mind “constantly.”

“It's happening. It's urgent, and we're running out of time,” she said.

Stiles feels anxious about the planet's future—and she's far from the only one. In 2017, the American Psychological Association (APA) released a report on the toll that global climate change is taking on mental health. Experts call that toll “climate grief” for short.

The APA report details the trauma that can result from living through natural disasters hurricanes and wildfires, and also notes how “gradual, long-term changes in climate can also surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness, or exhaustion.”

Stiles has her own fears about the impact of global climate change, but she won't let her climate grief give way to climate apathy.

“A sense of hope and action and that kind of thing is what inspires people to become involved and become educated (about climate change),” she said. “I remain optimistic about the future—but not without changes that need to be had.”

That sense of hopeful realism was the overarching theme at Forest Lake's Youth Climate Convening, held April 29. Stiles was among the group of students who planned the community-wide event, the culmination of their involvement with Youth Convening Minnesota, a leadership program run by the Minneapolis-based nonprofit Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy.

Participants spent seven months learning about environmental issues, planning the convening, and thereby gaining skills necessary to facilitate community-wide discussions on climate change and move towards solutions.

Forest Lake Mayor Mara Bain opened the event by thanking students for the time and energy they spent engaging the community on environmental issues.

“Discussions like these take place across the realm of the spectrum of government, whether that is at the national level or the state level, and my plea as a local government official is to say don't forget your local governments,” Bain said. “There's a lot that we do right here at home that has a lot of impact to our climate, whether that is the quality of our water (or) the transportation systems that we use … (or) the homes that we build.”

Throughout the remainder of the convening, climate scientist Sam Potter discussed the impact climate change is already having and will continue to have on Minnesota. Both Stiles and fellow Forest Lake student Nader Mustafa shared stories about their love of the natural world and the ways in which climate change is threatening to render beloved places and sites uninhabitable and non-existent. The event concluded with workshops on recycling and renewable energy that encouraged attendees to commit to solutions for —on both an individual and systemic level.

Climate Generation has facilitated many similar community events, but the focus on youth is relatively new. Kira Liu, a youth programs specialist at Climate Generation, said the ability to harness the energy young people have for climate action makes for something special.

“It's been great building relationships with these students,” she said. “I feel like they're so fired up and looking for an opportunity to put their passion into something.”

Learn more about Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy at climategen.org.

Elizabeth Callen is a reporter for the Lowdown, and can be reached at 651-407-1229 or lowdownnews@presspubs.com.

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