International Connections: Seattle Hosts Climate Change Youth Leaders from New Zealand and Australia

This past December, Seattle hosted a youth leadership group of nine high school students from New Zealand and Australia, and a teacher from New Zealand. For 11 days, these students lived with Seattle host families, attended classes at Chief Sealth International High School, and participated in a range of meetings and projects centered on climate change and sustainability.

The visiting students went through a rigorous application process to participate in the program. All have been involved in climate change activism in their home countries, and many are developing community projects to raise awareness about the effects of climate change in Oceania (Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands), which is disproportionately affected by changes in the environment. Elevated ocean and air temperatures have severely damaged pacific coral reef ecosystems, contributed to major draughts in Australia, and exacerbated glacier melt in New Zealand. Rising sea levels threaten coastal wetlands and estuaries, as well as island nations with low-lying population centers like Kiribati, Fiji, and Samoa. Regional environmental efforts are centered on curbing the spread of invasive plant and animal species, conserving terrestrial and marine habitats, halting local fossil fuel extraction (mainly coal),  and decreasing  carbon emissions.

In Seattle, the students improved their leadership skills, participated in hands-on community service projects, and met with many of Seattle’s environmental organizations. The students reported that their workshop on journalistic storytelling with the Seattle Globalist was one of the IMG_4582highlights of their visit, and many of them envisioned applying new media journalism skills to their own projects back home.  Another highlight was their meeting with the University of Washington Center for Commercialization (C4C). The C4C exists to help the university’s faculty and students develop and market their ideas for new companies and products. The students learned about the positive impact that entrepreneurship has on the Seattle area, and about a few local green startup companies that the C4C helped to develop. Some of the youth leaders remarked that they had no idea that resources like the C4C existed to help new entrepreneurs, and as we left the meeting, many of them were excitedly sharing their own ideas for new businesses and products!

On their final day in Seattle, the visiting students traveled to the West Duwamish Greenbelt, the largest forest in the city of Seattle. Guided by representatives of the Nature Consortium, the students planted young conifer trees and native shrubs as part of the Nature Consortium’s effort to protect the forest’s biodiversity and remove invasive species. The students also constructed several “natural art” pieces using materials from the forest and installed them alongside the Greenbelt’s scenic walking trails.  The Seattle visit culminated in a night of the students’ presentations about their learning, gift exchanges IMG_5003between the students and their host families, and a demonstration of the Haka, a traditional war dance of New Zealand’s Māori population (see video below). The students departed Seattle more aware of the effects of climate change and more empowered as leaders. They also left as a more closely bonded group. It is the World Affairs Council’s hope that these meaningful relationships between young New Zealander and Australian climate activists contribute to the region’s future efforts to jointly address climate change.


-Cory Rand, International Visitor Program Assistant