Wednesday April 25, 2012

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. -- Sitting in front of a computer in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday afternoon, environmental author, educator and environmentalist Bill McKibben smiled at an auditorium full of middle and high school students staring back at him from the Darrow School campus in New Lebanon, N.Y.

It’s a situation McKibben finds himself more frequently in.

"It’s good to be with you all virtually," said McKibben, noting that the keynote address he was about to give for the school’s annual Sustainability Sym posium was "blissfully low-carbon."

Both McKibben and morning keynote speaker Martin Ping, the executive director of Hawthorne Valley Association, urged young people to get involved in advocating for a healthy, sustainable environment.

"Today is an integration of education, agriculture and the arts," Ping said. "I look up to all of you here, for being here."

During his talk, Ping challenged students to be open to new ideas in order to make progress on addressing current issues in their lives.

"We are in a crisis of ecological, social and spiritual dimension," he said.

McKibben highlighted the efforts of activists and concerned citizens around the globe who are working to raise awareness on climate change and the Keystone XL pipeline controversy. He also cited regional environmental stressors like last year’s Hurricane Irene and last month’s unusual heat wave.

"There is no more important work on this Earth [than this]," McKibben said.

He also cited the work that young people are currently doing, both in lobbying and protest. Youngsters are also making simpler efforts to try to reduce their carbon footprint, he said, the amount of greenhouse gases produced to directly and indirectly support human activities, from driving to a concert to the energy produced from the number of plastic bags used.

"We need your help," McKibben said.

Throughout the day, participating students, educators and community members were exposed to local ways they can get involved with the environment. Those included the harvest of wild edibles, wind power and career opportunities in solar energy, sustainable architecture and environmental media.

Even the afternoon’s lunch period promoted local products from seven vendors, from farm-made cheese to garden salad greens.

"This is really exciting," said Mackenzie Viola, a sixth-grade student.

She and her classmates, Emma Houston and Lucy Doren, were among a group of six students from Monument Valley Regional Middle School who attended Tuesday’s event with their science teacher, Nick Van Sant, also a fan of sustainable science.

"It was a good way to learn different aspects and perspectives," Houston said.

"I didn’t know how little time we have to make a difference, but now I do," Doren said.