The last year has been a busy one for the Alabama Environmental Youth Council, culminating Wednesday with a webinar featuring a world-renowned climate change scientist and a statewide cleanup event in April.
James McClintock, a professor of marine biology at the University of Alabama, will present “From Penguins to Plankton,” a guide to the effects of climate change on the Antarctic peninsula and the creatures living there. McClintock has been a fixture on the continent since the late 1980s, when he began research at the behest of the National Science Foundation. The federal Geographic Board later named McClintock Point, near New Harbor, McMurdo Sound, for him. The webinar starts at 4:30 p.m. Central through the Zoom meeting app, which can be joined at meeting ID 636 816 3237, passcode 1914.
According to Sanjana Mupparaju, an Oxford resident, a junior at the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile and a council co-founder, McClintock reached out to the group about presenting after seeing a news story about one of its earlier webinars.
“He’s had books published, given campus talks and TED talks,” Mupparaju said by phone Tuesday. “It was exciting. This is a famous person who is interested in what we’re doing.”
The council was founded two years ago, Mupparaju said, with just a handful of members at the Mobile school, an accelerated learning facility. The group grew to more than 20 members and flourished last year in spite of the pandemic. The council was already built on a digital framework of communication, making it resilient to COVID side effects such as school closures and event cancellations. For local students, though, some annual opportunities dried up as the pandemic swelled.
The annual Earth Day field trip for the county’s fourth-graders had to be canceled last year, said David West, coordinator of the county extension office, and it’s uncertain whether it will be canceled this year as well. The event has brought hundreds of children to Cane Creek Community Gardens each year for more than two decades, West said, where they learn anything from water quality and management to recycling, wildlife safety, farming and several other topics through hands-on activities.
West said schools were still open to in-person presentations from the county 4-H program, so environmental education hadn’t suffered too much.
“But the hands-on stuff we would have done at Earth Day … had been canceled,” West said, and noted that activities at the event match the fourth-grade classroom curriculum and reinforce it. “We can’t get that time back with those kids in that grade.”
More people have been visiting the state’s parks, too, West said. A news release last month from the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources announced that 6.27 million people had visited parks in 2020, up about 35 percent, or 1.5 million visitors, according to Alabama Political Reporter. National parks have also seen an increase in vandalism and litter accumulation, according to a Time story from July.
For its part, the youth council in April will host a statewide school cleanup event, which Mupparaju said is being coordinated now with high school clubs throughout Alabama. She said that those interested in learning more and participating should visit the council online at instagram.com/aeycouncil or at aeycouncil.org for more information. Applications to join the council will open in mid-March and can be made through the website, she said.
The youth council’s education efforts extend beyond young people, Mupparaju said, and she encouraged anyone — including adults and people out of state — to tune in to the webinar.
“We can most easily reach young people, but everyone can benefit from coming to the webinars, from middle school-age and up,” she said.