Young people will change the course of the future. They are our only hope. #RisingGeneration
The world is looking grim at the moment, isn’t it? Everywhere I look on the news, I read stories of hurricanes devastating the Caribbean, US stepping out of the Paris agreement, heatwaves striking, and wildfires blaring up in the West Coast of Canada and other parts of the world, and let’s not mention droughts on many continents. Where do we see hope in all this climate pessimism?
I see it in this generation of youth – our future leaders.
In past years, through my work with Waterlution and volunteering my time with the Water Youth Network, I have been fortunate to be part of water-focused youth delegations at the international level – at events like the World Water Forum, and at International Water Weeks hosted by other countries. It is inspiring when you observe us – youth – mobilizing to get our voices included in decision-making and at the policy table, in matters that will affect our future most and that of the future generations. Matters like climate change and water.
I always felt we need more of this – youth engagement on water at the policy level – in Canada.
A Youth Delegation for Lake Erie
When the de Gaspé Beaubien Foundation first approached Waterlution to train and support the 2017 AquaHacking Youth Delegation for Lake Erie, I was beside myself. This opportunity of training a first bi-national (Canadian and American) Youth Delegation promised a chance for these delegates to impact water policy at the local/national/bi-national level – and there are not many opportunities like this for youth yet (trust me, I would know!). The AquaHacking Movement invited these young leaders into a relationship with key actors on the Great Lakes, at the policy table, and beyond. It also exposed them to a network of teams working on technical solutions for Lake Erie that were pitched at the AquaHacking Summit. But our role with the delegation was different – we were to talk less techy and more policy!
Why Lake Erie, Why Now?
Did you know…
- Lake Erie is the shallowest, warmest and most biologically productive of the five Great Lakes – making it highly sensitive to changes in nutrient levels and susceptible to algal blooms.
- It provides drinking water for over 11 million people (on both sides of the border).
- 8 billion gallons per day of treated sewage go into Lake Erie and its waterways.
- Intensive land use occurs in its watersheds (60-80% agricultural, and then there is urban).
- In the 60’s/70’s algal blooms were a huge problem; in 72 – the first Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (GLWQA) was signed, and then in 2012, involved regulating Phosphorus in detergents, sewage treatment, and best management practices for agriculture. But this was not enough.
- In the 90’s there was a return of algal blooms and current and predicted are expected to be worse!!!
(Source: CAN-ON DAP http://www.letstalklakeerie.ca/read-the-draft-action-plan)
There is a lot happening at the domestic and bi-national level at the moment to address these concerns around Lake Erie, but if behavioural change and public engagement at all levels and ages is not achieved en masse, policy efforts may fall short of tackling these challenges. This youth delegation had something to say about it!
Organizations like Freshwater Future (shout-out to one of our early Waterlution Associates – Nancy Goucher!), Canadian Freshwater Alliance, Essex and Region Conservation Authority, YU Ranch Sustainable Farm, Six Nations Land & Resources, Canadian Environmental Law Association and Ministry of Environment and Climate Change (MOECC) among others, showed interest in mentoring our youth delegates and hearing what they have to say – success!
First, please meet the 2017 AquaHacking Youth Delegates here.
In just two weeks after their training with Waterlution, the delegates submitted to the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change their recommended actions on the CANADA-ONTARIO Draft Action Plan for reducing phosphorus in Lake Erie. Their input was taken into consideration by the review committee and their poem was a hit (with rumours that it may be published on the front/back cover of the draft action plan!).
They published their recommendations in a Youth Declaration and Vision 2020 for Lake Erie which I encourage you to support by adding your name to it, right here: https://aquahacking.com/en/youth-declaration-2017/
More than that, they noticed that there was so much work being done on Lake Erie, but when youth were asked about it, they would not know what is wrong with Lake Erie nor how they could help. So they developed their own solution to address this gap.
Enter… Lake Erie Connect
Lake Erie Connect is a starting point for anyone wanting to taking action on Lake Erie and not knowing where to begin. Designed as an interactive quiz (inspired by “which Harry Potter character are you most like?” quizzes out there that fascinate our younger generations), it uses your age, location and interests to connect you directly with Lake Erie resources, action-opportunities, and organizations in your own community on both sides of the border.
Think of it as an umbrella database that holds all work being done on Lake Erie. It is also a work-in-progress, in beta version – but the potential is outstanding!
Now you see why I have faith in our youth as the change-agents of the course of our grim climate future? Is it not true that the more informed and engaged our current generation of youth is, the more hope there is to adequately handle the complex challenges of the future? So what are we waiting for? Let’s get the Youth voice included – NOW!
To get in touch with this Youth Delegation, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Dona Geagea, Project Lead and Engagement Designer