Let’s Talk Sustainability: Envisioning a Green Future from within the Sonoran Desert

Written by Youth Leadership Council Member, Evan Barnard

“Is the glass half empty? No! It’s the ocean! The glass is three-quarters full,” remarked guest speaker Adrien Grenier, adding a note of humorous optimism to his explanation of the relationship between environmental consciousness and consumer behavior.

Mr. Grenier’s interview was among the many incredible presentations by renowned speakers including the first indigenous president of Peru, a former NASA astronaut, the president of the Kyoto Protocol, and many others during the One Young World Environment Summit held May 19-21, 2016 at Biosphere 2 in Arizona. One Young World (OYW) is an organization that convenes many of the world’s brightest young leaders from global and national companies, universities, and organizations. This conference was OYW’s first summit exclusively focused on the environment.      

Delegates from across the United States of America and countries across the globe converged in the Sonoran Desert at Biosphere 2, which is the largest Earth science laboratory in the world. The main part of the Biosphere complex covers more than two acres and contains sections representing several of the world’s biomes. In a matter of minutes, I immersed myself in a lush tropical rainforest, marveled at an ocean and submerged coral reef, investigated a dense mangrove swamp, and traversed an arid desert, all containing plants and organic matter brought to the mammoth structure from locations from around the world. Twenty five years ago a number of scientists conducted an experiment attempting to survive in a completely self-sustained manner inside Biosphere 2. The sensitive scientific equipment throughout the massive structure still continuously collects data which scientists are using to model the effects of climate change in different ecosystems.

An excellent and inspirational series of speakers and panels were presented at the Summit on Friday at University of Arizona’s Tucson campus. The presenters discussed many areas of sustainability, such as waste management and reduction, sea level rise, and species conservation. The Saturday break-out sessions took place in different parts of Biosphere 2 and the surrounding facilities. Among my thought-provoking sessions was “Dilemmas in Doing Business”, which explored the various roles and interactions between stakeholders in the process of reaching a deal and plan of environmental action, providing insight into roles various stakeholders play. Another excellent session held in the Desert section of Biosphere 2 featured astronaut Ron Garan leading a discussion on Social Entrepreneurship. A major highlight of the day was a thorough, informative, and often technical behind-the-scenes tour of Biosphere 2. The summit was beautifully ended Saturday night with one of the best spoken-word poetry performances I have ever heard, given by the acclaimed Sekou Andrews.

As I flew back home the next morning, I had clean air and sustainability on my mind, and I also had many questions. How can we decrease fossil fuel consumption? How do we make things more biodegradable and keep our waterways cleaner? Can we remediate our atmosphere and cut down our greenhouse gas consumption? Perhaps most importantly, how can we find a way to get everyone working together to find and implement solutions to these and other environmental issues? After attending the OYW summit, I believe there is a way; we just need to keep searching.

The One Young World Environment Summit was more than transformative for me. I am now a stronger proponent for environmental conservation, but I am also a stronger believer in collaboration for environmental change. The point of OYW events is to empower young people to take what they learned at the summit and then actually go use it. One of the greatest take-aways from the conference for me are the connections I formed. At the summit, I met a young man from Kenya who became the CEO of his own Kenyan energy startup at 18 years old. As we bounced ideas off each other, we both experienced the power of collaboration, and even now as we are half a world away from each other, we continue to communicate and share ideas.

I am sincerely thankful to EarthEcho International for sending me to the One Young World Environment Summit as a delegate from its Youth Leadership Council (YLC). As delegates, YLC members served as ambassadors representing EarthEcho at the summit as we learned ideas for sustainable implementations. While the OYW Environment Summit was the first time EarthEcho sent YLC members to an event, I hope this opportunity will be the first of many. At conferences, YLC members can experience a variety of topics, network with environmental leaders, and use the knowledge gained to create better plans for the future.

I attended the summit with two other EarthEcho YLC members and our Council coordinator, resulting in stronger relationships between us. A certain comradery exists between all of the council members, as we have a common goal of environmental conservation on a global scale, vowing to work as a unified team. As the YLC plans projects to implement, we will work in collaboration to provide creative ideas and innovative proposals as an integral part of the EarthEcho team.