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Youth climate leadership needed now more than ever

Posted by: Eli Weiss, Community Engagement

Among climate scientists and activists there is clear consensus that climate change is a global crisis and urgent action needs to be taken. 

As the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report indicates, there is no time to waste if we hope to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Given this urgency, we are confident that the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network is needed now more than ever.

Since 2015, Woodland Park Zoo has focused our efforts to address climate change on working with youth and community partners through the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network (CAN). Seattle Youth CAN empowers teens to address climate change in their communities through education, leadership and action. Through this project, Woodland Park Zoo convenes community support for youth to gain the skills and confidence needed to become leaders in the continued fight for a better future for people, animals, and planet earth.  


When we developed the idea for Seattle Youth CAN in late 2014 with a group of passionate ZooCorps teen volunteers, we were responding to the call for tangible opportunities for youth to take action to address climate change. After several years of supporting and facilitating climate change focused engagement activities at the zoo, our teens were ready to lead by example and action to reduce their carbon footprint, in addition to encouraging our zoo visitors to do so. Two year later, close to 500 teens have participated in Seattle Youth CAN events, trainings, and our annual Climate Action Summit. We are proud of our progress and of the many teens and community supporters who have helped shape this exciting new project.

With two years of funding from The Ocean Project to pilot this program, support from the zoo’s education department, and commitment from Seattle Aquarium and Pacific Science Center (our two founding partner institutions) we have developed a model for local collaboration in support of youth-driven climate action and leadership. This year we are continuing to grow the project, and are working to make the network accessible and relevant for all youth in the Seattle area. 

Seattle Youth CAN has the potential to be the regional hub for youth climate engagement and action, and is also a model that can help inspire a national youth climate movement. This project has been a great experiment in local collective impact for the zoo and our community partners (see my full report on The Ocean Project Blog), and we continue to learn as a community about supporting youth driven action and working across sectors for conservation-focused youth development. 

Youth Action 

The past two summers, teen leaders developed and led an action campaign focused on getting peers to make transportation choices that reduce CO2 emissions. During the 2016 summer challenge, over 100 teens participated in events, social media and a team transportation challenge by logging 7,513 miles not driven alone which equals 3,214 pounds of CO2 saved! On a related note, in early 2016, teen project leads worked with King County Metro on a campaign to encourage youth to consider public transit and make the connection between public transit and fighting climate change. From this project, Metro produced a range of online resources including this video

This is how SYCAN has transformed my life. I now bus, carpool, or walk everywhere I go”  
-Masayuki, Youth leader and participant in the summer transportation challenge
(read his blog)


Soon after, a team of 11 teen leaders helped to organize the 2nd annual Youth Climate Action Summit at the zoo. The summit was held at Woodland Park Zoo and 100 youth participated, representing a wide range of schools and youth programs. We also had support from many of our community partners and local climate experts and activists, both in leading workshops and participating in the Climate Action Fair. Throughout the day, youth attendees had opportunities to connect with peers from around the region and engage with local climate leaders. 


This is an exciting time for the project and we have been busy gathering input from youth participants and community stakeholders to help us focus future programming on opportunities that are relevant and inclusive of all youth from our diverse community. In 2017, we plan to build on our successes with monthly events, opportunities for youth driven action, and our annual Youth Climate Summit. This year we will be forming a community steering committee to ensure that we have broad support for the project from both youth leaders and partners. In addition, we will be piloting a month-long Summer Learning Program for Seattle teens focused on climate literacy and careers, and hope to create paid internship opportunities to increase our capacity to support youth leadership and training.

Our youth are ready to take action and lead their communities on a more sustainable future path. Please join us in our journey as we work on regional solutions to tackle on of our planet’s greatest challenges. 

Seattle Youth CAN was really positive, especially when sending out my college application….I put a little of it into my college essay and actually got a note on my acceptance letter from one of my schools saying, ‘By volunteering for the Seattle Youth Climate Action Network you are making the world a better place.’ [SYCAN is] so unique and it’s not something most teens get to experience!
- Member of the 2016 Seattle Youth CAN Leadership Committee

Join Us!

Woodland Park Zoo and our partners are able to provide this program for youth in our community with generous support from our donors. To learn more about how you can support this program please email Kim Callahan, Annual Giving Officer, or call 206.548.2547.

Teens! For monthly email updates on events and opportunities to get involved with Seattle Youth CAN please sign up here or join our Facebook group.

Supporters! To keep up with our exciting progress you can follow us on Instagram and Twitter.


Anonymous said…
On the morning when the Director of EPA claims that carbon emissions are not the primary cause of climate change, the importance of this project is obvious. The Zoo should be proud of its leadership role. I live in rural Washington, where public transport is scarce. however, urging youth to carpool is easy and can be very effective. And of course educating and inspiring out futures leaders needs to happen everywhere, not just in big cities. Thank you Woodland Park Zoo. Lyn in Clallam County