GOSHEN — Cooper Tinsley wants to save the planet from the ravages of climate change, and he’s calling on youth from across Indiana to help him with that mission.
Tinsley, a sophomore at Westfield High School in Westfield, Indiana, just north of Indianapolis in Hamilton County, is founder of the Youth Climate Accord, a youth-led environmental advocacy coalition whose primary mission is to bring attention and change to government noncompliance and inattentiveness toward the topics of climate change and global warming.
As part of that mission, Tinsley accepted an invitation to share his mission and goals for YCA by heading up a special “Youth Empowered” workshop during the fourth annual Indiana Climate Leadership Summit at Goshen College Thursday afternoon.
A product of Earth Charter Indiana, an environmental advocacy nonprofit whose focus is on intergenerational action and education in the face of the growing climate crisis, Thursday’s summit featured a full day of discussions, workshops and brainstorming sessions built around the primary topic of resiliency in the face of climate impacts.
“When I was like 10 years old, I wrote a letter to President Obama complaining about how my city was tearing down so many trees. Ever since then, I’ve kind of been interested in the environmental aspects of politics,” Tinsley said of how he first became involved in environmental activism. “Then, as I got older, I started seeing all these headlines, like we only have 12 years left to turn things around with the climate, that sort of thing, and they just freaked me out. It was like this realization that we need to get things done quickly. And adults, they can help facilitate things, but we’re kind of the generation that is really going to be left with either A, a planet that isn’t really healthy for us, or B, if we’re able to change things, it’s going to be great. So it’s really that urgency that encouraged me to pursue this.”
So in April of this year, Tinsley got up the courage to start the YCA. He created a website, started putting out feeler for other area youth who might be interested in joining the cause, and word about the group began to spread.
“I just started getting a lot of positive feedback, and it kind of built me up to where I was able to do what I’m doing today,” Tinsley said of his advocacy outreach efforts.
According to Tinsley, much of his inspiration for creating the YCA actually came from the recent actions of his peers in the Goshen High School Youth Caucus, who this past April were able to get a comprehensive Environmental Action Plan passed by the Goshen City Council.
As approved, the action plan calls for the city government to reduce carbon emissions, increase energy efficiency and the use of renewable energy, and build up the city’s resilience to climate change. A sampling of goals outlined in the plan include achieving carbon neutrality by 2035, penning an emissions management plan, increasing the city’s tree canopy to 45 percent by 2045, and implementing a climate action plan by 2021.
“I was really inspired by Goshen,” Tinsley said of the youth caucus. “That’s why I’ve actually started writing a climate resolution for my city.”
But according to Tinsley, he isn’t content with just local activism. He’s looking to go big, which is why he made the more than two-hour drive from Westfield to Goshen Thursday to head-up the “Youth Empowered” workshop.
“Basically I came to this meeting today to get to know a bunch of youth from across the state of Indiana to help me in creating a statewide resolution and/or green new deal for the state of Indiana,” Tinsley said in addressing the room of about 50 high school and college students from institutions across northern Indiana taking part in Thursday’s workshop. “So what this meeting is really for is to create a Youth Climate Planning Commission, and that planning commission will help to organize several state climate summits that we’ll have. And within those state climate summits, it will just be youth, and we will be planning and writing up a resolution for the state of Indiana.”
So what will this new, statewide resolution entail? That, according to Tinsley, is still very much up in the air.
“My goal for this resolution is that it will involve all of us, so when we do those climate summits, we will be deciding which things we want to be in the resolution and/or piece of legislation,” Tinsley told the assembled group. “It’s really up to all of us to really get something done here in the state of Indiana, so please feel free to invite any of your friends that you think could really help us get something done. And I know a couple of you have passed climate resolutions in your cities, and I’m trying to get one passed right now in mine. Hopefully this inspires you to get something passed in your city as well, but the whole goal of this is to do something 100% youth-led that encompasses the entire state of Indiana. That could be a resolution for the state to reduce carbon emissions, etc. So it’s really up to you guys. This isn’t just about me. This involves all of us.”