Gina Fiorile

Youth Climate Summit Program, The Wild Center

Saranac Lake, NYAge: 21

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I am a recent graduate of the University of Vermont, where I received a B.S. in Environmental Studies and focused on my passion for climate education. Throughout high school and college I was deeply involved in The Wild Center’s Youth Climate Summit Program, located in Upstate New York, which convenes students annually and empowers them to create Climate Action Plans for their schools and communities. During my time at the University of Vermont, I implemented and hosted the Vermont Youth Climate Summit, which convenes hundreds of students from across the state annually. In addition, I continued to worked closely with The Wild Center to engage and support other emerging Youth Climate Summits, similar to my own in Vermont, which were happening across the U.S. and beyond.

I am currently working full time at another non-profit near my hometown in Lake Placid, New York, where I am learning non-profit management and development, among other useful skills that I hope to utilize at an environmentally-related organization in the future. I also hope to pursue a graduate degree in Communications or a similar field that I can also apply to my environmental work. I am grateful to be back in the Adirondack Park where I am close to my family and where I also have the ability to pursue one of my other great passions – figure skating!

What inspired you to become a champion for the environment and environmental education?

I was incredibly lucky to participate in The Wild Center's Adirondack Youth Climate Summit in high school.  Before then, I had no real interest in environmental issues. At the Summit, a local climate scientist spoke about the impacts of climate change in our region. Our local economy, history, and culture is centered around winter activities and sports, so to hear that those simple aspects of our daily life were at risk was a wake up call. I later realized that climate change is a massive issue that is already impacting people around the world, but it took a scientist telling me that my home was in danger for me to take notice. 

We shouldn't only become concerned about an issue until it impacts us, but for me that's what it took. And it was effective. Our best shot at motivating people to care about climate change is to make it personal and relevant to them.  Climate change will impact every person on this planet in some way, whether it be through dramatic weather events or changing food prices.  Once we understand that the impacts go beyond ourselves, and that people around the world will lose their homes and have their lives put at risk because of climate change, we will understand the urgency of the issue. This feeling of empathy toward my fellow humans, who may be at risk, is what motivates me to continue taking action.

What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders that are looking to bring about positive change in their communities through EE?

Young people have the creativity, energy, and passion to make progress on this issue that no other generation has been capable of. Seek out the things that make you feel empowered. For me and many others, it was a Youth Climate Summit.  For you, if there is an opportunity to learn and see a new perspective, then pursue it.

Never doubt the power of storytelling and communication because everyone's experience is important. Know your audience and speak from your heart because environmental issues are human issues. What impacts a person or a place across the world also impacts us.

We don't have to sit around and wait for our turn to make a positive impact.  We have the power as consumers, as students, as citizens to grow this movement. We are not only the leaders of tomorrow, we are leaders today!

Who do you look up to as inspiration for your work?

Without a doubt, my biggest inspiration has been Jen Kretser, the Director of Youth Climate Summits at The Wild Center. She has done incredible work for thousands of young people, implementing new Youth Climate Summits around the world and particularly creating a highly successful Youth Climate Summit in the Adirondacks which was used as a model for climate education under former President Obama's Climate Action Plan. Because of her, so many young people are educated on the most pressing issue of our time and feel empowered to do something about it. If that weren't already impressive enough, Jen is incredibly humble and sacrifices every day for the success of this program. She is highly empathetic and cares deeply about environmental issues because she knows how important it is for people to have a safe, livable planet. I have succeeded so far in this field because she believed and invested in me, and encouraged me to jump on any opportunity that came my way. Her generosity inspires me to give back and to invest in others as well.  Simple feats such as remembering people's names or meeting up with students for coffee are what makes Jen truly incredible, and I hope that I am able to imitate her as a leader.

If you could be any animal or plant, what would you be and why?

I could say something majestic such as a tiger or a bald eagle, but I would really love to be a seagull because they can fly, are always with friends, and get to eat a lot of French fries! Honestly, what more could you want?