Rowyn Cook is a student who works with the Youth for Environmental Action (YEA) group in Santa Cruz County to promote sustainability ideas on social media and help organize a climate conference. We spoke with Rowyn about her experiences doing environmental outreach through events and social media, and the power of action and representation.
Note: This Q&A has been excerpted and abridged from the video interview below.
How did you start your work leading environmental action in your community?
I’ve always been interested in these issues, and my parents have taken me to a lot of environmental events around Santa Cruz. I’m focused on bringing people together to share ideas about living in a way that’s sustainable for the future, finding the solutions to our problems, and learning to address them.
I’m with the YEA. We were planning a summit for students from all over Santa Cruz County, but that got canceled because of the coronavirus. It’s still going to happen next year, and we’re going to have student speakers, educators, scientists and other experts come talk about the reality and solutions.
This year, we’re focusing on social media. We’re making YouTube videos and I’m helping with the Instagram account. We’ve had people talking about the things they do for sustainability, rotating through themes. Our current theme is household sustainability, and we’re going through each room. We’ve also done themes about bees, zero-waste products, growing your food, and more.
Why is this issue important to you?
My parents home-schooled me, and we’d go work on an organic farm together. I used to think everyone had that kind of access to nature. When I started to hear more about pollution and what our future could look like if we don’t take action, it was really heartbreaking. I want kids in the future to be able to see all the beauty of the planet, and for the planet to continue to be healthy and beautiful.
What’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned through your environmental work?
I’ve learned a lot about the other kids in my community and why they care—and that everybody seems to care. We need to take those feelings and then act on them. It makes you feel good knowing you are putting your money where your mouth is, sometimes people just don’t know what to do or don’t have the resources.
What role do you think education plays in shaping young people to become leaders on climate and social issues?
It would be ideal if schools could all have a class where students go on walks in nature, which is like a utopia because not all schools have access to nature. The easiest way for teachers to make an impact is by teaching about climate change. It could be hard because it’s political, but it shouldn’t be: Just teach the facts. When teachers support students to help them see that they can make a difference, and show them ways they can, students react really well.
The most important thing is just having a relationship with nature, so if adults can give access to kids to spend time in nature, that’s all you need to develop a love for it. If you love nature, you’re not going to destroy it; you’re going to want to protect it.
What are your thoughts on how to create an equitable and inclusive environmental movement?
We need to figure out long-term solutions for everyone. We have to make a commitment to the future and not just whatever’s easiest right now. Representation is important for every movement because all different people bring different ideas and different solutions and different perspectives on things. Those will help us build a foolproof plan.
Are there any other messages you’d like to leave us with?
I hope everyone will want to protect the planet and our future. I want to see people coming together more. I think people are coming together for lots of different issues right now, and that’s great. As a planet, we can step up and work together and make it better.