By Catherine Girardeau

Eleven-year-old Colin Carlson of Coventry, Conn., took his cue from the penguins. The recent winner of the sixth annual Action for Nature International Young Eco-Hero Awards in the 8-to-13 age group was nine when he visited the Galapagos Islands as a member of the National Geographic Kids Expedition Team.

“I was snorkeling near a beach that was supposed to be teeming with Galapagos penguins, and there were only two or three,” Colin said in an interview with GreenRightNow. When Colin asked why, the answer he got – repeated El Nino ocean warming cycles associated with global climate change – prompted him to launch
“The Cool Coventry Club” to educate people about global warming and energy conservation, starting in his hometown.

San Francisco, California-based non-profit Action for Nature’s president, Beryl Kay, said her organization started the International Young Eco-Hero Awards after publishing a book about children’s successful environmental efforts around the world. “We thought it would be worthwhile to keep in touch with children who are doing exciting environmental things,” Kay said.

Keeping up with and offering the awards has turned up exciting projects around the globe where kids in elementary, middle and high school are tackling big environmental issues like automobile emissions and garbage proliferation. A few persistent young greenies are even launching legislative campaigns.

Besides Colin Carlson and his local energy conservation project, winners of this year’s Action For Nature International Young Eco-Hero Awards include 16-year-old Linus Wafula of Nairobi, Kenya. Linus started his project because he was frustrated by the lack of waste collection services in his community. Garbage was dumped in open spaces, and children who played there were contracting cholera and other water-borne diseases.

Linus literally took waste collection into his own hands and started a volunteer club to collect waste from local households, remove garbage heaps and dumpsites near homes, and drain stagnant water that might breed mosquitos.

In Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, tireless, talented 16-year-old Vania Santosa was inspired to clean up her country after reading a 2005 World Health Organization report naming Indonesia the number one dirtiest country in the world.

Working with the government, Vania said she holds workshops at least three times a month, teaching people to compost organic and recycle non-organic waste. The singer, actress, and student journalist combines her performing abilities with her desire to clean up her community. She composes and performs environmental songs and has distributed them on cassette and video to 7,000 schools in Indonesia. She writes articles and short stories about composting and waste for teen magazines and her school newspaper. Her latest project is an Eco-Fashion Competition featuring clothing made from recycled materials, which she plans to complete before moving on to tree planting.

Back stateside, 14-year-old Alex Lin took his concern about toxic electronic waste, or e-waste, all the way to the state legislature in his home state of Rhode Island.

“There was no system to properly dispose of e-waste in our town. You’d bring it out for normal waste and they’d throw it in the landfill,” Alex said.

His Project WIN ’05 leveraged a group of student volunteers to get an e-waste recycling receptacle donated by a responsible recycling company. The project then worked with the town council to pass an ordinance banning curbside collection and landfilling of e-waste. Once that was done, Alex and his group lobbied the state legislature to pass a bill banning e-waste dumping and promoting recycling throughout Rhode Island.

Alex has just launched Project WIN ’08, A Green Bridge Across the Digital Divide, an international computer literacy project to recycle computers, set up public Internet cafes in under-served communities, and lobby to get e-waste recycling facilities built across the globe.

Eleven-year-old Nathan Moos of Sandy, Utah, initiated one project imminently replicable in school carpool lines across the country. Nathan took second place in the 8-to-13 age group for his simple but effective Anti-Idling Campaign. Nathan lives in the Salt Lake Valley, burdened by some of the worst air pollution in the United States.

Like Linus Wafula, Nathan’s inspiration started as frustration. He attended former Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson’s Step-It-Up environmental conference in 2007, but being underage, couldn’t sign a petition calling for national emissions reduction standards.

“Not being able to sign the petition, I thought, there’s got to be something else I can do,” he recalled. “I remembered driving in my Mom’s car and asking her why she would turn off the ignition in drive-through lanes, and she said it helps the environment by reducing emissions. I decided I could probably do something about that.”

Nathan enlisted the help of 18 schoolmates to pass out flyers and hold up signs before and after school telling parents and bus drivers to turn off their engines while they waited.

“I bet you almost everyone there wanted to help the environment, but they weren’t thinking about it,” Nathan said generously. His campaign found the pocketbook to be one of the best places to drive the anti-idling message home. “Gas is costing $4.15 a gallon in the Salt Lake Valley, so another reason we give people not to idle is to save money,” he said.

Nathan is hoping a ban on idling will be adopted by his school this year. In the meantime, he’s stepped his efforts up to the state level, lobbying the Utah state legislature’s Transportation Committee for an anti-idling bill. “Anyone can basically do that, walk into the legislature and lobby,” he said. “That was the replacement for not being able to sign the petition at Step-It-Up. “ The bill has passed through committee and is awaiting final result.

What’s going on here? Eleven-year-olds persuading local business owners to adopt energy conservation measures? Kids too young to vote lobbying local and state governments and getting laws passed to protect the environment? Sixteen-year-olds tackling an inner-city community’s waste-management problems? To become an Action for Nature Young Eco-Hero, kids have to persevere, and achieve a result, said Beryl Kay. The winners of the monetary awards, she said, have “gone ahead and completed a project that sometimes has not been easy. Maybe they’ve overcome a fear of public speaking, or a fear of talking to important adults such as government officials.”

Eleven-year-old Colin Carlson of ”The Cool Coventry Club”, while clearly not intimidated by the task of educating his elders about saving power, said it’s made him a “more well-rounded person” to take his energy conservation message to people with different perspectives.

“Lots of people I talked to don’t believe global warming is real,” he said. “One guy said it was just 12-year sun spots.” But, like Nathan Moos, he learned that a pragmatic approach could circumvent philosophical differences.

“Take compact fluorescent lightbulbs,” Colin said. “You don’t have to believe in global warming to believe in saving money.“

This year’s Eco Heroes received between $100 and $500, a scholarship to attend the Bioneers conference held in San Rafael, California, each October, and a membership in famed primatologist Jane Goodall’s Roots & Shoots program.

Beryl Kay, Action for Nature’s President, concedes that this year’s winners are amazing people, but said part of her organization’s mission is to show that anyone can take individual action for nature. “Here are some role models who are doing some wonderful things, but they are things that other people can also do.”

The difference between an unformed desire to act and action? “These kids don’t know that some things are hard to do; they just get out there and do them,” Kay said. Let that be an inspiration to us all.

Copyright © 2008 | Distributed by Noofangle Media