Students advocate for climate action at youth policy seminar


Joelle Huysmans

Sophomores Jayden Wan and Shayna Blum contributed to Youth for Climate Policy by recounting their experiences in taking climate action, inspiring students to follow their footsteps.

Joelle Huysmans, Diversity Coordinator

On Friday, April 20, Sustainable San Mateo County hosted the Youth for Climate Policy seminar in advance of the following day’s Earth Day celebration. While the event aimed to shed light on the escalating climate crisis, it also invited students to take action and laid out the required measures for doing so. Two Burlingame students, sophomores Shayna Blum and Jayden Wan, organized and spoke at the seminar.

“This event is really important because a lot of times, as youth, we are told that we are the ones to have to solve this daunting problem of climate change, but are not really given the tools and resources to do so,” said Blum, a student advocate and vice president of the Cascade Climate Action club. Cascade is a community service organization at Burlingame dedicated to engaging students in the fight against climate change.

Instead of focusing on the typical ways students get involved in climate action — such as beach clean-ups and trash sortings — the seminar highlighted a fresh approach: political activism.

“The goal of this event was to enable youth to express their concerns to local governments,” Blum said. “After this event, hopefully students will feel more at ease letting [local governments] know what they want to see happening for climate change.”

Throughout the seminar, various presenters took the stage and offered their insights on how to successfully lobby local governments for climate action. The list of speakers included Terry Nagel (Former Mayor of City of Burlingame), Georgi LaBerge (Former Mayor of Redwood City), Kirsten Keith (Former Mayor of Menlo Park) and Mark Olbert (Former Mayor of San Carlos).

“I want to share [some advice] with everybody here who’s looking to figure out how to lobby the government effectively to get it to address an issue that you feel is important,” Olbert said during his presentation. “Always think about the motivation of the people that you are pitching … What you want to do is focus on how your ideas and thoughts can help further their ideas and priorities.”

According to The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the average local temperature on Earth has increased by over 1 degree Celsius (2 degrees Fahrenheit) since the late 19th century. The Sustainable San Mateo County organization and its collaborators are well aware of the dangers of the current circumstances, and encouraged students to be a part of the solution. With limited time and a growing problem, speakers emphasized that drastic measures must be taken.

“It does take a local government system to really validate and enact [a climate policy],” Wan said, “which is why [talking to local governments] is necessary when it comes to making change domestically.”

California State Senator Josh Becker was also an active participant in the conversation, offering a political perspective from inside the beltway. Becker underlined the many threats posed by the current climate disaster but retained a hopeful outlook on the situation. California continues to make significant efforts to drive climate action, and Becker was quick to point that out. 

“We’ve forever broken the myth that you can’t grow the economy while improving the environment,” Becker said. “Our greenhouse gas emissions went down 20% in 20 years… meanwhile, our economy grew 60%.”

However, Sustainable San Mateo County emphasized that it is the countless small acts that individuals take to support their climate that drive larger local and statewide legislative initiatives. As a way to inspire youth to take action, both Blum and Wan spoke about their work for climate change during the seminar and invited other students to follow their lead.

“As youth we are unique because we are the people of the future so we must advocate for it,” Wan said. “In the face of climate change, it’s crucial that we youth at least express our voices because they give us the opportunity to be heard by those who can make meaningful change.”

The journey towards a healthy environment, however, is a long — and occasionally discouraging — one. Last year, in an effort to have students be able to enjoy a more environmentally-conscious meal, Blum and her peers in Youth Climate Ambassadors program took on the mission to persuade the San Mateo Union High School District Board of Trustees to replace plastic packaging for a more sustainable one. Although she was proud of the initiative and effort put into the event, Blum was disappointed in the lack of progress.

“We spent our freshman year researching these solutions and really putting a lot of effort into this whole project,”  Blum said. “… however, at the end of the day, we really saw no change in our school district’s process.”

But Blum hasn’t given up hope: The path to new climate policies is long and takes sustained dedication, she said. She remains motivated and won’t stop working to find new and creative initiatives to fight climate change.

“Climate change is a very scary problem and the way that I feel better about it is by taking action,” Blum said. “It makes me feel like I’m contributing, and it makes me less worried.”