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Wood River Teens And Sun Valley Institute Put On Youth Climate Forum

Rachel Cohen/Boise State Public Radio
Trinity Hadam is one of the high school students on the Sun Valley Institute's Youth Council. The group helped to organize and plan the Youth Forum, which runs July 23-25.

Two years ago, Ruby Horton was sitting in a room at the Limelight Hotel in Ketchum. She was there to support her father, who was a panelist at the Sun Valley Forum.

"My dad, growing up, has always been a really big influence in my passion for environmentalism," Horton says.


Horton enjoyed the talks during the conference, like one from a man who walked to both the North Pole and the South Pole. But, she noticed something was off — she was the youngest one there.


“When I was sitting in the auditorium with everyone and listening to all these wonderful speeches and learning so much, I was looking around and I was the only person under 18 in the room," she says.


That was a problem, she thought, because the people up on stage were talking about how to reach people like her. So she decided to email the Sun Valley Institute, which embraced her idea to create a youth component to the annual forum.


A 2015 U.N. survey found 89% of youth think young people can make a difference when it comes to climate change. Horton is no different.


For six months, a youth council has been meeting to plan the Sun Valley Youth Forum. They come from three Wood River Valley high schools, as well as the states of Washington and California. 


Lexie Praggastis of the Sun Valley Institute was the group’s adult advisor. In the group's last planning meeting, Praggastis asked the students which ice breaker game they wanted to play when the 18 high-schoolers arrive for the forum.


"If you had to use the weather to describe your personality, what would your forecast be?" Praggastis suggests.


After the ice breakers, the students will get down to business. Over the course of three days, they’ll hear from some of the most prominent activists their age, such as Kelsey Juliana and Vic Barrett, two plaintiffs suing the U.S. government over climate change inaction. 


Then they’ll talk solutions. The high school students chose to workshop three problems they think are important for the future of the planet: transportation, plastic waste and food.


Trinity Hadam, a rising senior at the Sage School in Hailey, volunteered to lead the food brainstorm. Her group will think about how to bring more locally grown food to the Sage School. Then after designing solutions and prototyping, they’ll present their ideas in a pitch session.


"Making a space that we can work creatively to solve the problems around us," was the youth council's vision for the conference all along, Hadam says.


Praggastis also says it's important to make time for the high schoolers to use their own brainpower, and not just listen to adults.


"People approach especially teenagers with some sort of apprehension and condescension," Praggastis says. "Why I’m super excited about this is, it's a way for them to find their voices and be empowered to use their voice."


Two years later, Horton is looking forward to returning to Sun Valley. And, she’s excited that at this forum, there’ll be other people her age.


“I’m really excited just to see all these wonderful intelligent teens come together," she says.

Find reporter Rachel Cohen on Twitter @racheld_cohen

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