UWC AC GoMAD 2011 – Tennessee Youth Environmental Network

This series of posts features the winners of grants from the ‘UWC Atlantic College – Go Make A Difference’ initiative sponsored by Jill Longson and Colin Habgood. UWC AC GoMAD has reached it’s 10th Aniversary of Grants. Read other GoMAD 2011 projects here. Laura Rigell’s TENYEN – Tennessee Youth Environmental Network recieved a £750 grant under the UWC AC GoMAD 2011 initiative.

Laura Emily Rigell (USA, UWC AC 2009-11)

For most of my time at AC, I have struggled to imagine myself giving back to my home community (a small, middle class town in Tennessee) in any significant way. The problems there, such as a departure from community values, seemed to pale in comparison with the life-threatening issues faced daily by people in less-developed regions.

Now that AC has exposed me to a more holistic view of the international community, I recognize that many of the problems being faced by humanity today are rooted in the unsustainable nature of western culture. In the United States, we are completely detached from the impacts of the products and energy that we consume, and the short-sightedness of our rushed, materialistic mentality has led to land degradation, oil spills, and water shortages.a

The consumerist culture, that is so stereotypical of the United States, is now posing a more urgent threat than ever before: climate change. This new peril has innumerable implications for humanity’s security and convinces me of the relevance of a sustainable transition in the United States, especially in the fossil fuel-intense American South. Because I consider climate change the most pertinent global issue, a sustainable transition in America takes precedence for me over any other societal change.

Inspired by frightening statistics (for example that global emissions to peak before 2015 in order to avoid the inundation of low-lying islands), my friend Alex Durand (UWC-SEA 09-11) and I have decided to defer our entrance to university, and take a gap year to hasten the transition towards sustainability in our home state-TN. We, especially following our UWC experiences, have faith in the power of youth to inspire change, so have decided to address the entrenched fossil fuel dependence with a network of youth. We are now in the process of contacting teachers and students across the state as we begin to create TennYEN, the Tennessee Youth Environmental Network.

We were honored to receive a GoMAD grant from Jill Longson and Colin Habgood to support our efforts, and will use this sponsorship as we strive to achieve our mission: to empower Tennessee youth to enact change in local communities and to unite their actions in a state-wide transition towards sustainability.

To advance towards our ambitious vision, we have three main objectives:

  • to establish an online platform for TennYEN’s long-term communication, the coordination of state-wide campaigns, and the promotion of successful projects, opportunities for activism, and learning tools
  • to organize multiple youth conferences to further inspire TennYEN members
  • to visit schools throughout the year to encourage students to join the network, to disperse up-to-date and unbiased scientific information about the urgency of the problem, and to host workshops with the students in which they design solutions for their local community

Through our efforts, we hope to harness the energy of the youth, and to coordinate it into a long-lasting momentum that will inspire change towards sustainability in Tennessee communities. We aspire to communicate the impacts of the current consumption of products and energy and to emphasize the exciting potential for community-building provided by local food and local energy.


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