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Environmental advocates in action

Global warming. Air pollution. Microplastics. 

These are some of the issues thrown around about the environmental problems the earth is facing. While it is educational to learn about these issues, what can be done about them? 

Ask the Rochester Youth Climate Leaders (RYCL)! 

“Anytime there is an opportunity for action involved in climate change, it can feel so forced,” says Dorothy Leasure, a sophomore at the Walden Project in Naples. But RYCL off ers reachable actions to “empower people to create connections and a positive outward rippling effect for our environment.” 

After the first Youth Climate Summit was hosted at the Harley School in 2015, teens from schools throughout Monroe County wanted to continue their discussions about climate action with like-minded students. Hence, RYCL was born. 

“Something I love about RYCL is how truly youth-driven it is,” says Lizzie Stewart, a senior at Brighton High School. “RYCL provides us with a safe and supportive space to practice our leadership skills and experience the gratification that comes from seeing our efforts make an impact, no matter how big or small.” 

And RYCL is very action-driven. Kids participate in educational summits, climate rallies, and tabling events. In September 2023, they marched through Rochester to remind city leaders and corporations like RG&E that changes need to happen. 

“The youth of today have been repeatedly shown that our leaders and those we are supposed to trust are not going to fix this crisis,” says Juliet Besch-Turner, a freshman at the Walden Project. “We will have to suffer more of the consequences of our successors’ actions and inaction.” 

“We won’t get anywhere if we keep assuming our individual carbon footprints are negligible,” adds Jayden Vogler, a senior at Brighton High School who plans to study atmospheric science at Cornell University in the fall. 

Rochester Youth Climate Leaders

Ivy Bergin, a senior at Brighton High School, agrees. “I believe that RYCL’s efforts towards spreading awareness and endorsing climate-optimal legislation has expanded our community’s knowledge of the climate crisis and planted the seeds for greater change.” 

One of RYCL’s recent focuses has been to pass the New York Home Energy Affordable Transition Act (NY HEAT Act). This would ensure that state regulation of gas utilities follows the emission reduction mandates in the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. On January 23, group members attended a rally and lobby event in Albany to push this agenda.

“RYCL engages at a local and state level to push for the change that needs to happen,” says Besch-Turner. “I do what I do with RYCL because I believe it benefits myself, my community, and the world at large.” 

One of the biggest threats these teens see for our earth is overconsumption. “Rising sea levels, increasing temperatures, and stronger storms are becoming more impactful,” says Vogler. “It is inexcusable to continue investing money and power into such unsustainable causes, whether it be fossil fuels or consumerism.” 

“I believe that we should all do our part to ethically-source our food, clothing, resources, and other goods,” adds Bergin. “Through understanding where our belongings come from, we gain greater compassion for our fellow humans and understanding of our power to influence the world.” 

Many RYCL members joined because of their concern for the earth or their affiliations with their schools’ climate clubs, but they have stayed for the camaraderie and connection to teens from outside their own neighborhoods. 

RYCL member at lobby event in Albany

“I can connect with fellow [youth] leaders in the Rochester area to better understand local climate news as well as generate ideas for projects and interschool collaborations,” says Stewart. 

“RYCL has given me the opportunity to connect with smart and like-minded teenagers who are committed to making a difference,” says Bergin. “Being around such kind, fun, and admirable teenagers has been very empowering.” 

Besch-Turner adds, “Being a part of the change I so badly want to see brings me a further feeling of peace, purpose, and community in such an uncertain world.” 

If you would like to get involved with RYCL (, the group meets every other Saturday at Rochester’s Equal Grounds Coffee House (750 South Ave.) at 6:30 p.m. “It’s not the kind of thing you need to bring a friend to,” Bergin says. Veteran members warmly welcome any newcomers, so don’t be shy! 

You can also contact the group through Instagram (@rocyouthclimateleaders) or email [email protected] for more information. 

“I don’t think it’s fair that kids have to lead this movement,” says Besch-Turner, “but I do think that we have such a powerful voice right now, and that we need to use that voice to make change happen.”

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