Not just complaining about the weather

Not just complaining about the weather

Alysia Garmulewicz prescribes an outlook of action and optimism to challenge climate change
March 1, 2007
While most 16-year-olds deal with the challenge of learning to drive, Alysia Garmulewicz worried more about the emissions that cars produce and how they affect the world’s climate. Many Canadian youth share that concern, but what sets Alysia apart is her determined sense of optimism coupled with a confidence that she can really do something to make the world a better place.

“I take a real different approach from the current environmental youth movement,” she says. “It’s not just banging your head against the wall and saying something like the oil industry is the enemy and throwing bricks at the establishment. Real power starts when you define new models of doing things—that’s where it gets exciting. It’s about asking what future we want and how we design that—and to let creativity and innovation be the motivators.”

That approach led Alysia to create the Changing Climates Environmental Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to cultivating new attitudes toward environmental matters with the potential to dramatically change existing political, economic, and social systems. She wants youth to do more than the basics, such as turning off lights to conserve power, and to take on projects that are much broader in scope.

Now 19 and studying for an interdisciplinary degree relating to environmental science and policy at Carleton University in Ottawa, Alysia continues her work with Changing Climates. The group showcases cutting-edge concepts in fields like architecture and design, where the effects can be long lasting and far-reaching.

She emphasizes that such projects are not merely suggestions for debate; they provide the framework for a way of life that today’s youth can consciously choose. “The basic philosophy is that the system we have is not what we’re stuck with,” she says. To demonstrate the possibilities, Changing Climates mounted YC3—the Youth Climate Change Conference—a gathering at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia in July 2005, where 85 delegates between the ages of 14 and 23 immersed themselves in dramatic new visions of the future.

The event was the result of two years of work by Alysia and a committee she formed. With the support of partners such as Bell Canada, Environment Canada, BC Hydro, Mountain Equipment Co-op, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, youth delegates from seven Canadian provinces and territories, Wales, Scotland, and the United States spent three days working with a group of 20 speakers and mentors.

Many participants left the event inspired to change their lives in very specific ways, itemizing their various commitments on the YC3 website. One youth delegate has gone on to form his own Vancouver-based, student-driven network for social entrepreneurship, called Eonfire. Eonfire’s mandate is to bring various social agencies and leaders together, raising awareness by hosting documentary movie screenings and publishing research papers.

For Alysia, such an outcome represents the realization of a personal goal that first took shape amid the icy wilderness of Antarctica. There, at the age of 15, she joined an international gathering of students who were confronted with the hard truths about climate change. Experts made it clear that even a setting as remote as Antarctica could be forever altered by human activities. The experience left her with an indelible appreciation for the many natural processes affected by climate change.

“Antarctica completely overwhelmed me,” she recalls. “The environment that surrounds you is just so vast, untouched and beautiful. And to know that climate change is affecting it in a negative way—and such a magical place would eventually be gone—was really hard to take. It was really motivational in that sense.”

That was precisely why Alysia dedicated herself to revealing what can be done—focusing not on what environmentalism is against, but on what individuals can do. “We really need to define what we’re for,” she says. “It’s just a question of reaching out and finding common ground.”

Alysia is finding fresh focus with the launch of the International Polar Year, which includes a committee dedicated to getting youth involved in the event. She is already helping this committee plan an International Youth Conference on the Poles for 2008, a gathering that she hopes will build new bridges between emerging scientists and policymakers.

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