The 2002 Brower Youth Award Winners Speak Up

Amir Nadav, 17, is a high school junior from Eagan, Minnesota. Concerned about his peers' exposure to harmful diesel exhaust from idling schoolbuses, Nadav headed a campaign for cleaner buses in Minnesota. By circulating petitions, rallying on the capitol steps, and personally lobbying for the bill, Nadav succeeded in passing statewide legislation that bans excessive bus idling in front of schools.

After Ethan Schaffer survived lymphoma cancer at the age of 15, he went to New Zealand to work on organic farms. Schaffer's experience abroad opened his eyes to sustainable living, which he believes is the key to good health for humans and the environment. Schaffer, now 21, established Organic Volunteers. A national program providing outreach and education for sustainability and organic food systems, Organic Volunteers has over 2000 members in 41 states.

17-year-old high school student Stefanie Lacy established the first ever paper recycling program in Bandera, Texas. The Bandera County Paper has redirected 280 tons of paper to a recycling plant in San Antonio 35 miles away. Not only has Lacy's program successfully saved 4, 600 trees by diverting Bandera's paper waste from landfills, the project has also raised almost 6,000 dollars towards The Friends of the Library of Bandera County and The Animal Welfare Society of Bandera County.

For the last three years, the Earth Island Institute (EII) has recognized youth between the ages of 13 and 22 whose work embodies the principles of conservation, preservation and restoration, for which David Ross Brower coined the term "CPR for the Earth." This year the awards, named after Brower, went to six young activists from around the country who have gone above and beyond expectations to spearhead local campaigns, start organizations, and bridge the gap between environmental and community issues.

David Ross Brower's long life of environmental activism began when he joined the Sierra Club at the age of 21. He led the fight to preserve wilderness areas throughout the US and abroad and founded several organizations aimed at promoting environmental and social justice before his death in 2000 at the age of 88. Since then, the Earth Island Institute, which Mr. Brower founded in 1982, has sought to carry on his legacy by supporting young leaders taking action.

This year, in addition to receiving a cash award, the winning six spent several days in Yosemite National Park, and attended an awards ceremony in Berkeley, Calif. WireTap tracked down three of this year's winners and spoke with them about what it took to get their projects off the ground, the challenges facing youth activists today, and what they have set their sights on for the future.

WireTap:Did you grow up in a household where environmental issues were important? Is your high school environmentally conscious?

Nadav: My high school isn't particularly environmentally conscious. Environmentalism and the like were never really a big thing in my household either. My mother always used to love taking us out on trips to state parks. I think those trips instilled in me a sense of respect and care for nature and the environment.

Lacy: I did grow up in a household where environmental issues were important. My family and I were always recycling and doing something to help the environment. It wasn't until we moved out here to Bandera that we did not have a local recycling program. My high school was not environmentally conscious until I approached them about getting the school involved [in a recycling program.]

Schaffer: I grew up in a household where environmental issues were important in a theoretical sense. My father was very political; an unwavering Democrat. I was taught to support the ideas of environmentalism. I grew up in rural Idaho, both of my parents enjoyed the outdoors. I was encouraged to enjoy the natural beauty of the world. However, there is a big difference between enjoying nature and living in line with it. Our lifestyle was not in line with nature; it was similar to most American lifestyles. We depended on the car, used toxic household chemicals and ate meat and pesticide-drenched food. I went to a boarding school in California, Cate School. There the dichotomy was even worse. Although it was considered "liberal" we were living far outside the carrying capacity of the Earth. I'm grateful to have lived that dichotomy because it taught me the difference between beleiving in something and acting on it.

WireTap:What was the first step you took after realizing you wanted to do something about this issue?

Nadav: A week or so after the first Sierra Club meeting I attended, I met with the Sierra Club organizer, and another student who was interested in working on this campaign. Together, we drafted up a petition calling for cleaner buses. We also planned out posters that we'd hang up in our schools a week or so before we would start to circulate the petitions. The purpose of that was to raise the awareness a bit, and get people ready for, and expecting the petition.

Lacy: I met with Mr. James Graham from the San Antonio Post Office Environmental Division. He [met me in] Bandera and told me how I should approach the city and citizens for their support. I contacted Mr. Graham [after] I found out that [two local post offices] were involved in a paper recycling program.

Schaffer: : In the winter of 2000-2001 my girlfriend and I hitch-hiked all over New Zealand working on organic farms. As soon as I had experienced sustainable living first hand, I started to clearly see what needs to happen in the world. I realized the obvious fact that it is not enough to talk about sustainability, we need to practice it. For humanity to be sustainable every human, myself included, must learn the sustainable arts and implement them on a personal level. That's where I came up with the idea for, a way to give everyone access to an education in sustainability, free of cost. I explained the idea to my brother, Grayson, who was learning how to build webpages and databases at the time. Within two weeks the website was up and running and we were calling organizations and networking like crazy!

WireTap:What issues do you think top the list of concerns for your generation? Is the environment one of them?

Nadav: It's hard to speak for a whole generation of people. From my vantage point, it seems like the environment is definitely a major concern. I think that there's a lot more awareness about how our modernized world affects our health, and the health of the planet. The more people know about these issues (such as pollution, global warming, etc), the more urgency there is to speak up and do something about it. I think that another big issue is tolerance. Our society is more diverse than ever, and people are having to deal with people who are different on an everyday basis. So I think that another big issue is learning to accept people who are different, and just be more tolerant in general.

Lacy: Yes, the environment is one of the concerns of my generation ... because over the years people have become so naive that the world doesn't need saving. Environmentalists and activists [are] not enough. We need to make people aware that one person can make a difference, but a hundred can make a huge difference in helping to save the world.

Schaffer: : Sex, drugs and music. What else? Maybe college, cars and money. The baby boomers do a good job controlling the minds of my generation through pop culture, mainstream media and mandatory education. There is, however, a commited group of youth who are throwing apathy by the wayside and taking action. All humans care about the environment. We all want good food to eat, air to breathe and clean water to drink. The activist youth of today are concerned about the environment and what makes them different from past youth movements is that they're seeking out hands-on experience in the application of sustainability. I've seen thousands come through They're learning about organic farming, renewable energy, natural building and they can't be stopped. The world will change; just give us time.

WireTap:What challenges did you come across in your process ? How did you solve them?

Nadav: I think the biggest challenge I came across was getting started. I had always been interested in environmentalism, but I never knew how to get involved. When I got an invitation from the Sierra Club to attend one of their meetings, I was pretty hesitant. I didn't know how they'd react to a random high school student showing up to one of their meetings. Obviously it paid off.

Lacy: The recycling company was not very supportive of my idea. [Bandera is a 70 mile round trip from San Antonio. The company was wary of committing because of extra business expenses regarding man-power and transportation.] They gave me a 30 cubic yard recycling bin for a three month pilot program. During these months Bandera had to collect the minimum tonnage [of]10 tons a month. Bandera has always exceeded the minimum tonnage.

Look for opportunities and sieze them when the arrive. I know it's not always easy, because you don't know how people will accept you, how it'll be, or what to expect, but things will fall into place, and at the end of the day (or month, or year) you'll be really happy you swallowed your pride and just took a chance.

Schaffer: : We are faced with challenges everyday. Staying positive, focused and working diligently and patiently has helped us tremendously. When we have been faced with large challenges it has often helped to seek out the right person or organization to help us with that challenge. When I wanted to build the website I went to my brother. When we needed funding we enlisted the help of our friend to write grants. When our server was getting overloaded with traffic we asked North Carolina State University to host the site. We're grateful they accepted. Making alliances and friends in the sustainability movement has helped us a great deal and most organizations have been more than willing to work with us.

WireTap:Did your work open your eyes to new issues you would like to do something about in the future?

Nadav: Definitely so! Working on the school bus diesel campaign got me much more interested in pollution issues in general...I think that working on this issue just opened my eyes to all the pollution sources around us and what havoc they wreck on the environment and on human lives. I've become a lot more interested in clean and renewable energy sources, as well as "green transportation".

Lacy: Yes, it encouraged me to show people that they can also start a paper recycling program or do something [to help the environment] in their communities. I plan to major in environmental issues when I go to college.

Schaffer: : Sustainability needs to be brought to every aspect of human life so therefore connects to all issues. The impending war in Iraq, for instance, is over the unsustainable use of oil in the United States. As always, my main job is to lead a life that respects the bounds of natural limits. I want to start an ecovillage and create a working example of how people can live together peacefully, in line with nature and with an abundance of food, water and energy. I want to show people that sustainable living can be far more prosperous, fun and beautiful than the average American lifestyle.

WireTap:What advice can you give other environmental activists in high school or college?

Nadav: Like I said before, the worst thing you can do is do nothing at all. ...Look for opportunities and sieze them when the arrive. I know it's not always easy, because you don't know how people will accept you, how it'll be, or what to expect, but things will fall into place, and at the end of the day (or month, or year) you'll be really happy you swallowed your pride and just took a chance. Another thing I think is really important to stress is that anyone, no matter how old he or she is, has the right to speak out and take action. Just because someone is too young to vote, doesn't mean that person is too young to speak his or her mind or fight to make this world a better place.

Lacy: If you have an idea go with it. You can't let people stop you from doing what is right in the world. This is the only world we have so if we don't take care of it now no one will and it will be to late to save this great place.

Schaffer: : My advice to all activists who want to make change is to first change oneself. Start on the inner level by taking a Vipassana course. Vipassana is a totally non-sectarian meditation practice to bring about peace of mind. It's free. Then gain some practical experience in sustainability by coming to Organic Volunteers and finding an opportunity that interests you. Visit as many places as possible since no farm or site is perfect. That's what I did, anyway, and it certainly got me moving down the right path.

#story_page_ below_article

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.