Friday, December 18

US and Kenyan Youth Unite

Yesterday, several Expedition Copenhagen delegates and other youth delegates from the United States had the opportunity to meet with Kenyan youth delegates. We discussed our stories about how we got to the conference and also shared narratives about how youth have been organizing in our countries. Kenyan youth shared that although government and civil societies in the country previously had rocky relationships and young people had been ignored altogether, real collaboration has recently become possible. A four-year drought currently plagues Kenya; we heard stories about the affects of this environmental change on the livelihoods of agriculturalists and pastoralists in the country. However, we heard their optimism amidst real and current climate challenges they face.

As our meeting wrapped up, we discussed possibilities for future cooperation, touching on everything from a Facebook group to an exchange program between our countries. We then moved forward with our day’s projects, starting with taking footage for our three-word film to be released in the next several days. After shivering out in the cold together—a true bonding experience—we moved our meeting from a cold basement space to a space at Klimaforum where we worked towards our main goals for the day: putting together a package to jointly deliver to President Obama. The package included letters from children of both countries: specifically from the Kenyan town of Obama’s father and from Chicago and the Midwest. Kenya was Obama’s past, Chicago and the U.S. is his present, and our future depends on his leadership.

An addition to the package was a joint letter sharing the voice of youth on the eminence for the US to commit to strong climate legislation. Personal stories were shared that related to climate change causing economic hardships experienced in the US and extreme environmental degradation in Africa. In the interest of future generations and the health and wellbeing of those living in the world today, our voices came together to ask for strong and equitable commitments.

As President Obama is now in Copenhagen, the package should be delivered to him soon. The connections our delegation has made with Kenyan youth have been a life-changing experience. We hope that our sincere words and passion to ensure a healthy, sustainable future will be remembered by our President as he enters into the negotiations.

Wednesday, December 16

Writers, Activists, Politicians Point to Youth and Hope

As restrictions start to increase at the Bella Center due to the inability for the center to hold a capacity greater than 15,000 (in addition to increased security purposes), our delegation has had to divide up our time in the center as we now only have 8 passes to enter. The change of schedule provided me the opportunity to spend time working with the youth delegation during the morning and hear from Naomi Klein as she made a special visit to share words of inspiration with youth.

After swapping badges with delegates who attended the Bella Center in the morning, I was able to attend a presentation with Ban Ki Moon and Wangari Maathai. Today, Wangari Maathai was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace for her work with the Green Belt Movement and dedication to lifelong humanitarian efforts by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon helps UN Messenger of Peace Wangari Maathai with an official pin to wear the title.

The audience was offered the chance to ask questions after the presentation, and of the five questions asked, three of them were in regards to youth and their influence on changing the world. When asked how youth could learn to become global leaders, Ban Ki Moon pointed out that the world needs not only politicians but humanitarians, people working on small-scale levels to make big differences. He also commented on the hope he gains from today’s youth in working hard to shape a better world.

If there are two words that have become prevalent throughout the briefings and sessions I’ve attended, they would be “youth” and “hope.” Leaders in the UN have continuously stressed their support for youth in being involved in the UN process in Copenhagen as well as leading movements within their own regions of the world. It’s inspiring to hear that those people who have aspired to create positive change for humanity put their hopes for the future in the capacity of today’s youth to work for a better world.

Monday, December 14

The Real Story of the Youth Climate Movement

If you have recently seen in the news large-scale, high visibility actions staged by youth in and around the Bella Center, I would like to provide another perspective on what's really happening when the media isn't watching. The "front page worthy" photos the media chooses to portray are not truly representational of all the work that's actually being done by youth around the world during the conference. I want to provide some insight into the intensity of the projects youth are working on as they propose global solutions to the climate crisis.

All youth are part of an official provisional constituency called the YOUNGOs, thus the group now has the opportunity to propose amendments to policy during certain official UN sessions. After the Conference of Youth during the first weekend we arrived in Copenhagen, a global movement has erupted among youth to push for policy that will not neglect those who suffer most from climate change. The YOUNGO group, now known as IYCM (International Youth Climate Movement-- and yes, everything at the UNFCCC is in acronyms), has mobilized to work in specific policy groups focused on areas of mitigation, adaptation, finance, and tech transfer in order to propose amendments to the bracketed papers released by different delegations. (The goal is to make the bracketed language unbracketed and put into permanent context. Before any legislation is passed through the UNFCCC, entire papers are bracketed and part of the negotiations entails deciding what language will stay and what will have to be amended for countries to agree on the legislation put forth.) Each of the delegates from our Expedition Copenhagen has been involved with some sort of policy focus and/or other more regionalized groups.

The opportunity for US youth has also been to be involved in the US youth delegation to support the US to make strong climate legislation to be passed through the Senate. Underneath the US delegation are many non-governmental organizations that are all collaborating through policy work as well as planning interventions (think of them as registered visual displays/actions -like what the news is covering) and scheduling meetings with top negotiators as they arrive in Copenhagen.

Our WSF delegation has been involved in many of these arenas, and we've been working almost round the clock while bringing a Midwest perspective to the table. The decisions made at COP15 will directly affect ALL countries, including the US, so it's important to show the world that youth are connecting and collaborating, not only through the US but as a global unit, to promote a strong, just, and equitable treaty that will reach a binding agreement. Just remember that for each photo that depicts an action, there are many photos that could have been taken depicting the many youth huddled in circles around the Bella Center for regional and international meetings occurring throughout the day, briefings with heads of state where youth pack the rooms to capacity, and youth sifting through stacks of policy papers to understand, interpret and write amendments to legislation. We're living on coffee and adrenaline inside this Bella Center bubble, but the real force driving us is not the energy we have through the visual actions but the underlying hope we collectively share for the future we wish to have and will create.

Our very own Sarah Mullkoff speaks before an audience at the Bella Center as part of a Midwest panel with Rep. Kate Knuth (D-MN).

Sunday, December 13

Get out the popcorn--it's video time!

Here's a look at what it's like to be at the Bella Center for the UN Climate Change Conference:

I previously had the chance to meet National Geographic photographer James Balog. Here's the interview I had with him:

Friday, December 11

The Best of Copenhagen & UNFCCC

With negotiations well underway here in Copenhagen, it's time to do a recap of some of the many events that have happened thus far. How better to do that than through a short photo-essay? Please enjoy the following, and for more photos check out our Will Steger Foundation flickr site.

Here's a look at our delegation- On the 5th and 6th we attended the Conference of Youth with youth representing over 100 countries. Thanks to WildThings for the coats --we've received a lot of good feedback for wearing them as it adds a more official and professional look to our delegation.

During the conference, I was able to attend a presentation by National Geographic photographer James Balog. He combines the best of science and art by recording photographs as time-lapse images from cameras positioned into glacial regions around the world. Through the photographs, a documentary of glacial melt can be observed, thus following the detriments of climate change in the most vulnerable areas. Check out his website to see his latest research project.

At the recent US EPA briefing, youth packed the room to take up 3/4 of the available space-- from the very front rows to way in the back. Over 500 US youth are here to show their support for climate change solutions and ask their representatives to do the same. During the briefing, 5 of the 9 questions asked were from youth. We are showing the US delegation that we care about our future and want the US to take a strong stand in these negotiations.

Just last night, the US youth gathered for dinner and discussion with Chinese youth to come up with a strong proposal for climate solutions between our two countries. Last night was a great start in building lasting, significant relationships that will continue after COP15 when we continue to work for change within our own countries.

This only skims the surface of all the things that have been occurring at COP15. Stay tuned for more; in the meantime check out this video to get a better idea of a day in the life of a youth delegate!

Sunday, December 6

Copenhagen Part 1: Art Actions

Greetings from Copenhagen!

After meeting up with Aurora and Reed on a connecting flight, the three of us arrived safe and sound early Friday morning, jet-lagged with the morning sunrise above the clouds still fresh in our minds. Since then, we've all had a little sleep to catch up in between the Conference of Youth meetings which have already begun. (Just a little-- we're beginning to realize what 18+ hour days feel like.)

Delegates from over 100 countries were present at the Conference of Youth meetings today. COY is an organized group of international youth, and it has provisional constituency status for the UNFCCC. This means that the group has a chance to speak during certain sessions of the conference and also has greater access to officials than would normally be without the status. In addition to planning meetings and attending sessions, there are many other events and actions the Conference of Youth, also known as YOUNGOS, will be involved in. One area involves art activism, which I learned about in a workshop I attended:

In the Art and Activism workshop, I found myself surrounded by people with a vast array of talents ranging from painting and computer graphics to puppeteering and dance. As we went around in a circle talking about our artistic passions, our "artist in residence," Kevin, directed us to a sign written on the wall that read, "The role of the revolutionary artist is to make revolution irresistible!"

Art is a universal language, and it has the ability to build bridges across cultures, uniting people of all cultural backgrounds to share stories and emotions that tap into the very elements that make everyone human. Throughout the short hour workshop, we began to tap into some of those qualities as artists offered to everyone their talents of dance, singing, and ideas. One delegate from Kenya showed us how youth perform dances to people chanting about climate change, and a delegate from the UK performed slam poetry about climate change.

Artists are in a unique position to use their abilities to create powerful messages that can transform societies and bring about positive change in local or global arenas. Over the next two weeks, artists from around the world will be uniting to share messages of the urgency to create climate solutions and the hope that today's youth have for shaping an equitable future.

Saturday, November 7

Talkin Trash and Fulfilling a Mission

Talking Trash
I just got back from an afternoon walk after hanging out at an Augie football game. The beautiful weather and attraction of people to the outdoor game could only mean one thing: it was time to "talk some trash." Through the organization I'm interning with, the Sioux Falls Green Project, we've started a new program through the city called Trash Talkers in order to educate fans at events about recycling and the things they can do to be green while having fun.

This summer we've spread the green message and kept events clean and green at Jazzfest, Hot Summer Nites and Automania. A new chapter of Trash Talkers has started on Augie's campus in collaboration with the environmental group Augie Green, and fans can be sure to find us starting conversation by the recycling and landfill bins while sporting our Trash Talker t-shirts. Our mascot Ole the Viking even got involved, moving through the masses with a sign that says "Please Recycle." We've had a great response from events fans, and it's been a great way to open
conversation with the community about practicing sustainability wherever you're at.
*photos courtesy of Karin Costin

Mission Accomplished
On another note, our delegation has just finalized our mission statement! This is everything our delegation represents for the Midwest; I find it to be very inspiring. Check it out:

"We are U.S. Midwest youth advocates working to fulfill our global responsibilities by teaching and empowering climate action through local collaboration and international partnership. We seek an equitable global climate treaty that catalyzes clean energy opportunities and reduces climate impacts in the Midwest, promotes just sustainable development everywhere and builds bridges of collaboration between our region in the wider world."

Friday, November 6

SD on the Smart Grid Map

President Obama's recent announcement of federal investment in a national energy grid has resulted in two SD energy cooperatives starting smart grid systems. Black Hills Power and Sioux Valley Southwestern Electric Company will begin installing smart meters for 92,000 members in SD, MN, and ND. Meters will allow residents to monitor their electricity usage, thus giving them the ability to choose when to run appliances based on the times when rates are lowest (and there is less load on the system). Scientific studies have shown the potential to reduce the strain on times of peak loads by 15% and result in an average 10% decrease in electricity bills per household.

While the project begins for system installation, Augie Green members (a group of environmentally-minded college students) are busy writing letters to show their support for this transition to energy alternatives that allow individuals to be more aware of their energy consumption and make choices that benefit not only the environment but their checkbooks.

For more information, read: PARKS, NOREEN. Environmental Science & Technology, 43, 9, 2999-3000, 2009.
also: Gabrukiewicz, Thom. "S.D. energy gets $9 million boost." Argus Leader. 27 Oct. 2009.

Saturday, October 24

Sioux Falls Joins Global Action

What an amazing day! Those who participated in the 350 action today were among the hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, from all walks of life, who gathered in support of stronger climate change legislation to lower carbon emissions to 350 parts per million.

Our action in Sioux Falls started with a parade from 5th and Phillips to the Horse Barn Arts Center and ended with good food and environmental discussion at the Falls Overlook Cafe.

Included in these pictures is the banner everyone painted and wrote messages on about what SD means to them along with the kind of future they would like to see for the state and its people. There were even international students present who added to the banner their wishes for global collaboration on climate change!

To everyone that participated in some way today, thank you for your presence, your enthusiasm, and your hope while working to make a better future possible for all on this planet. Climate Change affects everyone, and it is only when the people of the world come together to collectively solve the problem that we will arrive at the sustainable environment everyone desperately needs. Today's event was proof that people are ready for the commitment.

To see the rest of the photos, go to our flickr page. If you were unable to participate in the 350 Day of Action but are still looking to do your part, contact me at for ways that you can get involved.

Friday, October 23

Happy International Day of Climate Action!

October 24th has arrived: the greatest day of environmental action in history! It's a great feeling to be a part of a movement led by people across the globe, in 181 countries to be exact, all because people around the world realize the eminent nature for strong climate action to be taken to protect our future. Starting today, 350 will become the most popular number in the world: it's the scientifically-determined number of parts per million of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere that is the safe upper limit of pollution, and it's a number we have to reduce our current levels (387) down to.
I've been checking out photos from around the world to see what people have been doing for their 350 actions, and here's a few of the many events that have happened:
-a 24 hour diving party in the Maldives (they are in danger of literally losing their country because of sea level rise) --the President has been holding underwater conferences to emphasize the importance of working towards a healthier planet.
-architects in China standing in a 350 formation on their rooftop
-climbers at the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro noting that if the glaciers keep melting as they are, it will be very difficult to do any trecks to the top because of lack of water

and those are only some of the many intriguing and powerful photos!
Sioux Falls will soon be a part of this monumental day. We're ready to go, and now the only thing left is YOU! Come out to Falls Park @ 3:50 pm and take part in an action that will help save our environment, our homes, and our futures! This event is free, open to the public and all ages, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

Monday, October 19

Sioux Falls Going Global on Oct. 24

What: 350 International Day of Action
Where: Falls Park
When: Saturday, October 24th 3:50 pm
Who: This event is free and open to the public. All ages welcome.

Mark your calendars: Sioux Falls is hosting a global art action and party on Saturday, October 24th to celebrate the environment, and you're invited. Be a part of the experience at 3:50 pm at Falls Park, and stick around for free eco-friendly products, good green conversation or a bite to eat.

October 24th is the International Day of Action promoting 350, the scientifically determined number of parts per million (ppm) of carbon emissions that is the safe upper limit for maintaining a healthy atmosphere. On Saturday, over 3,700 events will be taking place in 162 countries to promote this number. Here's a taste of what's to come: mountain climbers holding 350 banners on some of the world's tallest peaks; a 350 mile bike ride through MN; scuba divers holding 350 signs by the Great Barrier Reef. Sioux Falls will now be a part of this monumental day!

Here's the plan: we'll meet at 5th and Phillips at 3:30 pm and parade to the Horse Barn Arts Center at Falls Park. Inside will be a giant banner for everyone to decorate with their environmental hopes for SD and the world, and this banner will be displayed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference this December. We'll use the banner in a picture that will be taken at Falls Park, where all participants will form a giant 350 across the park. The picture will be sent to our legislators in DC, posted online, and shown on the big screens of Times Square in NYC! Following the art action, the Falls Overlook Cafe will be open to participants.

Check out for more information about the International Day of Action, and for more information on the United Nations Conference, click here.

Tuesday, October 13

Gearing up for 350 Global Action at Falls Park

Join me for this monumental International Day of Action to support a clean energy future for us in SD as well as our neighbors across the globe!

What: 350 Day of Action
-participants form giant "350" across Falls Park
-a gathering to support environmental action that will ensure a sustainable future for SD and the world
-Free eco-products for all participants
-post-party to follow

When: Saturday, Oct. 24th at 3:50 pm

Where: Falls Park

Who: YOU! (feel free to bring 100+ of your closest friends)

How: Walk, bike, bus, or carpool

Come to Falls Park on Saturday, October 24th to celebrate the earth and spread the 350 message! The 350 International Day of Action is a gathering of people all across the world to support decreasing the number of Carbon Dioxide parts per million to 350. Scientists have determined this to be the upper limit of pollution to maintain a stable climate, and across the globe people from 152 countries are staging rallies, artistic actions, and creative events to promote this number.

Here's the plan: everyone will meet at 5th and Phillips at 3:30 pm, and we'll parade to Falls Park at 3:50 pm. At the Falls, everyone will gather in the formation of a giant 350 and we'll take pictures and video that will be sent to our legislators and displayed across the globe as well as on the screens of Times Square in NYC!

Post party to follow the action-- stay tuned for more details!

If you're from out of town and want to start your own action or see if there's one where you live, go to the 350 website.

Saturday, October 10

Inspiring Students in Sioux Falls High Schools

I've been traveling to Washington and Roosevelt High Schools these past two weeks to talk to students about the negotiations in Copenhagen and hear what their views on sustainability are. The students that I've met have been very inspiring as they plan to create events that will help their schools and the Sioux Falls community. Cheers to them!

If you are a student and want to know how to get involved with helping your school, neighborhood, or the world become more sustainable, here are a few ways to get started:

1.Start an environmental group at your school. There's strength in numbers, and you'll be able to collaborate with other passionate peers about making a positive impact. Talk to a teacher and spread the word to other students to get started.

2. Do your homework (Seriously!) Research the issues you want to focus on, and go to reliable sources to find answers. Reliable sources have been "peer-reviewed," which means that many scientists have repeated experiments and research to determine if an answer holds true. Good places to start are with scientific journals, like Science or Nature, but you can also check out these sites:

The United Nations Climate Change Conference website

The Environmental Protection Agency

Take a field trip! Talk to Matthew McLarty at the Environmental Law and Policy Office in Sioux Falls

3. Send your message to Copenhagen! You can write a message to today's global leaders that I will bring to Copenhagen to display to everyone involved at the UN Conference this December. Contact me at to get started :)

Sunday, October 4

Meet the Delegates

Check out this video to get to know the delegates! We'll be reaching out to the Midwest through our blogs before the Climate Change Conference and while we're in Copenhagen this December.

Here's a brief overview of our roles:

1) Engaging youth throughout schools across each of our states (North and South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota) about the upcoming negotiations in Copenhagen:
SD has importance not only as a major food producer for the Midwest but also as a state of global exchange. We connect with people across the globe every day, and it's important for our voices to be heard during the United Nations conference so that we can share our concerns for the future of our state. What happens in Copenhagen will affect the decisions that are made in the US.

2)Students and youth have a great opportunity to make a difference for our state, and it is my job to help you be a beacon of hope for the future! I'll be going out to schools to let students know what they can do to help their communities become more sustainable and ensure a lasting future for the youth that will continue to call SD their home.

3) While in Copenhagen, I'll have the chance to display the messages of South Dakota residents to the entire United Nations! Send me a message of your hopes for the future of the state, and I'll take it with this December.

Stay tuned for the meantime, here's a blog with additional information.

Party for Clean Energy Legislation!

Yesterday I went to Repower America's Sioux Falls office (335 N. Main Ave, Suite 200) for a celebration of the new climate legislation released by Senators Kerry and Boxer. There was much fun to be had as I worked on letters with those present and snacked on fresh veggies and a cookie or two. Repower always has an open house on Tuesdays from 5-7pm; there's good food, drink, and conversation and I would encourage anyone to check it out. This is a great way to get to know other environmentally-minded and socially conscious people while working to make a difference in our state and the world.