The Next Generation of Climate Activists

Each spring YMCA Earth Service Corps hosts an Environmental Symposium with the goal of educating and empowering high school youth about local environmental issues. The Symposium consists of a series of 50-minute hands-on workshops that inform teens about environmental topics and encourages them to address local environmental issues through meaningful action. The workshop proposals are reviewed and selected by the youth leaders based on their interests and passions.  

The youth selected the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency's Equity + Engagement team's proposal which focused on basic air quality science, how pollution affects health, environmental justice concerns, how to operate air sensors and understand air quality data, and how to protect themselves and the community. The Symposium was held at the University of Washington.

We wanted the youth to understand what is in the air they breathe, the health issues attributable to air pollution, how certain communities face disproportionate impacts, and ways to use a science- based approach to mitigate issues. The overall goal was to leave the youth empowered to act in their own community by advocating for green spaces, idle-free zones, access to public transportation, and other solutions. 



Participants were very engaged in the standing room only interactive workshop, asked many thought-provoking questions, and were eager to learn more about environmental justice. We began the session discussing the basics of air quality, transitioned to reviewing the root causes of environmental justice, and ended the presentation by engaging with them about some of the things they can do to advocate for change in their communities. After the presentation and discussion, we remained inside and provided a hands-on activity showing the youth how to use portable Dylos air sensors. We displayed how the air sensors pick up various sources of air pollution. For example, we demonstrated how sanding a block of wood increases air pollution particles. After receiving a brief tutorial on the equipment, the youth walked around the UW campus to test their hypotheses of air pollution sources.


The youth leaders were very impressive with their foundational knowledge of environmental justice and their passion for making a difference. We are looking forward to watching their environmental leadership journey progress, and we feel fortunate that we were able to be a small part of it.  

Written by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency's Equity + Engagement staff