From left, Solorio Academy student Fatima Perez, ETHS student Emmet Ebels-Duggan, Tonga climate delegate Uili Lousi, Oak Park-River Forest student Tori Evans and OPRF student Manolo Avalos at COP27 this week. Credit: David N. Sattler

High schoolers and youth climate activists from the Chicago area did not back down from the hard-hitting questions when they met with powerful world leaders this week at the United Nations global climate conference, COP27, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt.

Youth climate engagement organization It’s Our Future, part of the larger Chicago area sustainability group Seven Generations Ahead, held a livestream event on Thursday for parents, families and other youth activists back home in Chicagoland to hear from those attending the conference in Egypt.

Evanston Township High School senior and E-Town Sunrise Hub Coordinator Emmet Ebels-Duggan was one of five student representatives from Evanston, Chicago and Oak Park. Earlier this week, he conducted an interview with John Podesta, the senior advisor to President Joe Biden for green energy innovation and implementation.

During that conversation, Ebels-Duggan asked Podesta about the role the U.S. could play in securing loss and damage funds for countries experiencing the brunt of the climate crisis. Podesta told him that American leaders have to start by listening to the countries that have lost the most.

“I came away from that thinking that he cares, that John Kerry cares, and I think that Al Gore cares a lot,” Ebels-Duggan said. “But I also think that the more interpersonal your actions and interactions can be, the better for the efficacy of that specific action.”

Ebels-Duggan and the four other local students who made the trip to Egypt also got a chance to chase down Kerry and Gore to watch their speeches at the conference and ask them questions. In fact, Evanstonian Rachel Rosner, a trip chaperone and program coordinator for It’s Our Future, was able to use a connection to a different organization to bring all the students to a reception with Gore this week.

“A lot of times, big corporations in the private sector create solutions where they completely disregard the input of indigenous peoples, and often just locate solutions like wind turbines on indigenous land without thinking about the impact that can have on their culture and everyday lives,” Solorio Academy High School student Fatima Perez said. “If you affect indigenous peoples’ everyday lives, you’re affecting the private sector culture and the community they live in, which then starts to fall apart.”

Other representatives from Chicago area high schools also talked about the importance of maintaining hope for positive change in the future amid an increasing attitude of “climate doom.” Greta Kringle, a Solorio Academy teacher, said she was amazed by the sheer number of people involved at the conference, which gave her more optimism about the experiences and policy suggestions that those people will bring back to their own homes around the world.

For his part, Ebels-Duggan has spoken to ETHS school board members about sustainability, and he has also met with city Sustainability and Resilience Coordinator Cara Pratt. Looking toward the future, the most terrifying – but perhaps most promising – aspect of climate change is the level of uncertainty about the impact that it will have and just how much the climate could warm, he said.

“I’m still figuring out the role of different kinds of storytelling and different kinds of thinking,” Ebels-Duggan said. “But I know that in whatever we do, we are preparing ourselves and future people for this path and this future where we don’t really know what’s going to happen, and that’s scary. And we’re doing the best we can.”

Duncan Agnew covers Evanston public schools, affordable housing, City Hall and more for the RoundTable. He also writes long-form investigations, features and the morning email newsletter three times a...

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