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Pulitzer Center Update February 7, 2024

Student Voices: Youth Speak Out on Environmental Issues in the News

Decorative graphic for the Local Letters for Global Change contest

Students are invited to make their voices heard this election season by writing a letter to their representative that explains the global issue they want to see prioritized. Deadline: November 13...

August 16, 2023
Decorative graphic showing the faces of students who responded to environmental issues in the 2023 Local Letters for Global Change contest.

In the Pulitzer Center's annual Local Letters for Global Change contest, students respond to global issues and call for action. This year, a strong plurality of students wrote about the environment and climate change. A remarkable 46.2 percent of contest entrants chose to address environmental concerns in their letters, indicating a widespread recognition of the importance of protecting our planet.


This trend reflects a broader sentiment among today's youth, as highlighted by recent research conducted by the EdWeek Research Center. In their survey of teenagers between the ages of 14 and 18, an overwhelming 91 percent of teenagers believe climate change is real. Additionally, 65 percent of students expressed a keen interest in learning more about how climate change will impact the future of the Earth and society. Even more, approximately half of students expressed a desire to understand what they can personally do to mitigate the effects of climate change and to deepen their comprehension of the underlying science. This underscores a genuine desire among young people to understand and engage with environmental issues. The Local Letters for Global Change contest gives students an outlet and platform to do exactly that.

To get a sense of why so many students gravitated toward news stories about environmental issues, we interviewed contest participants. Their responses demonstrate a combination of factors, including personal experiences, a deep concern for the Earth’s wellbeing, and a sense of urgency instilled by the visible impacts of climate change.

These thoughtful reflections demonstrate a profound concern for the environment. They demonstrate that young people have a deep-seated commitment to understanding and addressing environmental challenges. The Local Letters for Global Change contest serves as an avenue for students to voice their concerns, perspectives, and personal experiences, and to advocate for change. By listening to and valuing the perspectives of young people, we can nurture a generation of informed and empowered citizens who build a better world.

Valerie Antoniette Hardin | 9th grade | Jakarta, Indonesia

Wrote in response to "A Portrait of the Duano Tribe's Life as the Mangrove Forest Erdes" by Tonggo Simangunsong and Suryadi M Nur

Why did you choose this issue and story?
I chose the story about the Duano tribe because their struggles illustrate how environmental issues affect economics, society, and education. This story inspired me to write a letter as a student, aiming to inspire proactive environmental action, especially among young people. 

How did this contest help you amplify your thoughts and concerns?
Participating in the contest gave me a platform to voice my concerns and advocate for change. It highlighted the significance of the Duano tribe's story and its relevance.

Why do you think climate change stories are so popular with young people?
Climate change resonates with young people due to its direct impact on our lives, motivating us to pursue tangible solutions. In essence, my letter reflects a commitment to a better future by raising awareness and addressing environmental challenges for generations to come.

Violet Sandridge | 7th grade | Boulder, Colorado

Wrote in response to "The Whales of Fishing Creek: Climate Lessons From the Pliocene" by Justin Cook

Why did you choose this issue and story?
I was drawn to "The Whales of Fishing Creek" because the author, Justin Cook, brought data and statistics to the crucial problem of climate change.

How did this contest help you amplify your thoughts and concerns?
The idea of sharing my thoughts with someone who holds the power to make change happen—my congressperson—motivated me to refine my viewpoint on this critical topic. And now, I am excited to share it with an even broader audience.

Why do you think climate change stories are so popular with young people?
Older generations are stuck in their political viewpoints. Our generation is the one that has to deal with the realities of climate change. We do not have a choice.

Claire Marble | 4th grade | Washington, D.C.

Wrote in response to "The Hidden Costs of Flooding in D.C.’s Poorest Wards" by Marcelo Jauregui-Volpe

How did this contest help you amplify your thoughts and concerns?
The contest helped me learn about flooding. Before this contest I had no idea Washington D.C. ever flooded. Once I learned about it, the contest let me voice my ideas to help stop or lessen floods in D.C. 

Why do you think climate change stories are so popular with young people?
Kids are almost always on the internet and this means that they are always seeing posts about events caused by climate change, such as storms, floods, and droughts.  

Pragyaan Gaur | 12th grade | Delhi, India

Wrote in response to "China's Surprising Solutions to Clear Killer Air" by Beth Gardiner

Why did you choose this issue and story?
Every person living in Delhi faces the harmful effects of air pollution. Each winter, the air quality index hits new levels, and the residents of Delhi have almost started to believe that there is no solution to this problem. When I read the Pulitzer Center article about how the government of China attempted to solve the problem of air pollution in Tangshan, I realized that the problem is solvable. The only way to solve it, however, is to awaken the people in Delhi so that the issue is addressed.
How did this contest help you amplify your thoughts and concerns?
The contest allowed me to reflect on the conditions in Delhi and think about possible solutions. I realized that it is possible to bring about change by making people aware of the issues faced in society. I was reminded of the quote, "Change takes time. But, it also takes people."

Why do you think climate change stories are so popular with young people?
Whether it is a person living in a small village with no clean water or a city with high temperatures due to global warming, everyone in the 21st century sees some form of climate change in their local community. Young people, in particular, have not only lived in, but have also been born in, this world. As a result, they can relate to the different climate problems that people in all parts of the world face. The stories of climate change inspire them to look at the problems of their own communities and come up with solutions.

Sahana Altevogt | 6th grade | Washington, D.C.

Wrote in response to “Disaster Aid Running Out As Pakistan Struggles To Recover From 2022 Floods” by Fred de Sam Lazaro, Sarah Clune Hartman, John Yang, and Kaisha Young

Why did you choose this issue and story?
Climate change is something we are learning a lot about at school. The Pulitzer Center article was important to me because many people are dying because of our actions. In addition, my grandfather is originally from Pakistan, so he and his family could have been impacted by the floods if they had not moved.

How did this contest help you amplify your thoughts and concerns?
The contest gave me an opportunity to write directly to Congressman Raskin, who is a senior Congressman from Maryland. I was able to show him that the actions we are taking are impacting people who are less fortunate than us in a country as far away as Pakistan. I was also able to talk to him about how climate change is also impacting us in Maryland. And be able to share this information with him, and also my ideas of what can be done to prevent this from happening. 

Why do you think climate change stories are so popular with young people?
I think we are a bit scared about what climate change is doing to the earth. We do not know what it will mean to us when we are adults and we know that once there are these changes, we won’t be able to fix things easily. If climate change continues there will be more disease, more extreme weather, and ultimately more suffering for people. 

Read the Students' Winning Letters:

Click here to read all of the 2023 contest winners' and finalists' letters! Sign up for the Pulitzer Center's weekly education newsletter and be the first to hear about the 2024 contest launch, as well as other resources and opportunities.


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Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change