”“Youth voices are critical to climate work. Meaningfully addressing the climate crisis means bringing young people in as part of the process. Their future is at stake, and their voices add urgency to the opportunities for change.”Lucia Athens, the City of Austin’s Chief Sustainability Officer
The Austin Youth Climate Equity Council (AYCEC) engages high school youth as leaders in local climate action who support the implementation of the City of Austin’s Climate Equity Plan and Austin ISD’s Sustainability Plan. The mission of the AYCEC is to give a platform to youth who want to actively engage in the civic process and invest in the future of their city. The council develops youth insights, increases communication between adults and youth, and builds accountability for implemented climate action on their school campuses and in their community.
The 2020–2021 school year was the inaugural year of the AYCEC. Council members have gained an understanding of Environmental Justice, accessed opportunities for professional development, sharpened leadership and communication skills, and networked with local climate and political leaders. The AYCEC took action through their Community Impact Projects, which each address a tenet of Austin’s Climate Equity Plan. The AYCEC presented their work and insights to the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability and Austin ISD administration through a virtual showcase on May 19, 2022.
Expand the groups below to learn about the 2021–2022 AYCEC members and their work to design Community Impact Projects.
The Natural Systems Team was interested in green spaces and the impact they have on students and local communities. They gathered data by interviewing community members and documenting the green spaces in their communities. Because natural green spaces benefit environmental and mental health, this team designed rain water gardens and proposed school campuses for the gardens to be installed by AISD to help close the gap between the number of green spaces found at schools on the west and east side of Austin.The team plans to rehabilitate nearby green spaces and use the green spaces and gardens they restore as hubs for environmental education.
Alexis (she/her), 17
My name is Alexis and I’m a senior at Akins High School. I wanted to join this Council because I wanted more experience working within conservation with a racial equity lens. I’ve been interested in the environment and wildlife since I was a kid, and I love being outside. I’ve been looking for opportunities to work in the outdoors to hopefully lead me to a career.
Anna (she/her), 17
My name is Anna and I’m a senior at Bowie High School. I represent Austin City Council District 8. I plan to pursue environmental science as a career. I am currently Editor-in-Chief of my school’s newspaper, The Dispatch, where I wrote both commentaries and news stories regarding climate change. I was inspired by my time on the Council to write this interview with environmental justice community organizer Susana Almanza. I hope to continue learning more about the current climate crisis and interacting with other young members of my community to make change. In my free time, I enjoy photography, reading, and spending time with my friends.
Daniella (she/her), 16
My name is Daniella, and I’m a junior at Crockett Early College High School. I represent Austin City Council District 2. I wanted to join this Council to surround myself with students from different schools who are just as passionate about the environment as I am.
Ivy (she/her), 16
My name is Ivy and I’m a junior at Anderson High School. I represent Austin City Council District 10. I wanted to join this Council to find new ways to help my community and work with others to promote environmental awareness.
Maiya (she/her), 15
My name is Maiya and I’m a sophomore at Anderson High School. I wanted to join the Council because I have always been passionate about the environment. One of my dad’s hobbies is underwater photography, so I have been lucky to have the opportunity to dive. The first time I dove, I realized just how beautiful nature can be but also how it is deteriorating due to the impacts of human interaction. I noticed there was plastic around coral reefs and some bleaching as well. After witnessing this, I realized just how much we as a generation have to do in order to give future generations a suitable way of living. Being on this Council will help me make a difference.
Reeno (they/them), 16
My name is Reeno and I’m a junior at Crockett Early College High School. I represent Austin City Council District 8. I wanted to join the Council so I can begin to get involved in taking action. I’ve always loved nature, it’s one of my favorite places to be. Seeing it being blatantly destroyed is heartbreaking, and the fact is, it hurts us just as much. I just want to help however I can.
The Sustainable Buildings team learned that older school buildings, where many of the group members attend classes each day, are susceptible to the effects of poor indoor air quality due to outdated ventilation systems. This led them to investigate sustainable architecture and devices that monitor and improve air quality and energy use in school buildings. Students toured AISD schools and met with district energy specialists, such as Darien Clary, to research the logistical capabilities of CO2 sensors. The team proposed that AISD install CO2 sensors in their buildings in order to monitor air quality and eliminate energy use in empty rooms. This will improve indoor air quality and comfort for building occupants as well as impact students’ performance in school.
Ellison (she/her), 15
My name is Ellison and I’m a freshman at Ann Richards School For Young Women Leaders. I represent Austin City Council District 8. I was raised to hold a deep sense of justice for all communities—I’ve been to the Highlander Center (a historic training ground for the Civil Rights Movement) summer program, and I have created school campaigns to change conditions for all students. Climate change has been a devastating constant in my life, most recently with the Austin Freeze, and I know something has to be done to protect the most vulnerable communities. The Austin Youth Climate Equity Council is the perfect opportunity to do something important to carry out justice.
Gaby (she/her), 15
My name is Gaby and I’m a sophomore at McCallum High School. I represent Austin City Council District 8. I wanted to join this Council because I would like to learn about climate change and tell other people around me that it is a larger issue than we think it is.
Jackson (he/him), 14
My name is Jackson and I’m a freshman at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy. I represent Austin City Council District 3. I wanted to join this Council in order to help raise awareness about climate change and its effects. I strongly believe that climate change prevention practices and plans need to start at a local level. I love spending time outside because it can be very peaceful. I get to spend time thinking without distractions.
Levi (they/them), 15
My name is Levi and I’m a sophomore at the Liberal Arts and Sciences Academy. I represent Austin City Council District 5. I wanted to join this Council so that I could help create positive change in my community through climate policy. I have always felt great concern for the status of our environment, and luckily I have grown up in an environmentally progressive city such as Austin, which has allowed me to follow my passion for climate mitigation, through volunteering, research projects, and school programs.
Nishtha (she/her), 15
My name is Nishtha and I’m a freshman at Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA). I represent Austin City Council District 8. This council is a great opportunity for me to make a difference and be able to conquer climate change. I can contribute my leadership skills to spread awareness and persuade others to do certain activities that can reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly. Being a part of this council helps me help the world.
Phoenix (she/her), 15
My name is Phoenix and I’m a sophomore at Eastside Memorial High School. I represent Austin City Council District 3. I wanted to join this Council because it’s an opportunity for me to have a more significant role and voice in Austin, learn from others, and influence my future career in environmental science. My connection with the environment comes from my desire to heal it because it’s our home, every living thing on earth is dependent on the environment in which it lives.
The Transportation and Land Use team explored regulations of residential development to fight for the well-being of the community, establish municipal initiatives to combat gentrification in vulnerable areas, and protect housing equity. They conducted research and used Photovoice to illustrate the effects of gentrification on existing communities. The students proposed that AISD and the City of Austin improve reporting, public feedback, and accessibility, devoting larger sums of money to establish and prioritize offering courses in environmental studies and climate action in underserved East Austin schools. This would lead to more leaders from such schools rising to the occasion and fighting for the climate justice of their communities.
Dante (he/him), 16
My name is Dante and I’m a junior at the Liberal Arts and Science Academy (LASA). I represent Austin City Council District 10. I am here because I do not have a playbook on how to help my people when disasters caused by climate change devastate my community. My connection to the environment is that my generation will not make it another 40 years if we do not act quickly and learn how to take care of the planet.
Henry (he/him), 14
My name is Henry and I’m a freshman at Anderson High School. I represent Austin City Council District 3. I wanted to join this Council so that I can learn more about climate change, learn from my peers, and participate in the collective dialogue of how to resolve this immense issue.
My name is Jade. I am a freshman at Ann Richards for Young Women Leaders. I represent Austin City Council District 2. I wanted to join this Council because it seemed like a great way to use my voice and speak for my community. My community is affected in many ways by climate change like flooding, hurricanes, and more.
Stella (they/them), 15
My name is Stella and I’m a sophomore at Travis Early College High School. I represent Austin City Council District 3. I joined the Austin Youth Climate Equity Council to fight for positive and impactful climate policy in my community. I’ve always loved nature and have for many years wanted to pursue a career relating to environmental science.
The Austin Youth Climate Equity Council is led and facilitated by EcoRise in partnership with Austin Independent School District, the City of Austin’s Office of Sustainability, and the University of Texas’s Planet Texas 2050. Thank you to our partners for working with us to create this platform for Austin-area youth to take climate action. If you are a high schooler or know any students who would be interested in joining the program in Austin, please contact Celine@ecorise.org. Together, #WeRise.