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Young, climate-conscious, and thirsting for action

Jul 13, 2012 / CIPRA Internationale Alpenschutzkommission
Young people from five Alpine nations campaigned as part of the My Clime-mate Project to make the Alps a carbon-neutral region. At the end of October they took stock - and forged new plans.
Image caption:
Heaps of fun on spongy ground:<br/>The youngsters discover the marsh with all their senses. © Eric Vazzoler
Primož Jeras is not sure whether switching off the light when you leave the room really helps. He knows that there is a limit to what one person alone can do. On the other hand, becoming a role model can sometimes get things moving. Which is why the 24-year-old from Kamnik in Slovenia always switches off the light, buys regional produce whenever he can - and talks about these issues with his friends and acquaintances.
It is a mild October morning and sunlight is flooding through the glass frontage into the school gym in the Swiss municipality of Sörenberg in the UNESCO Biosphere Entlebuch. Seated around tables in a horseshoe layout are 33 young people from Italy, Austria, France and Switzerland. They are discussing the results of the My Clime-mate project. They range in age from 16 for the youngest to 24. They all live in a member community of the Alliance in the Alps, a network of more than three hundred communities and municipalities in seven countries. Together with the resident population the network of municipalities wants to develop the alpine living environment in a sustainable way, the motto being: "Exchange, Address and Implement". CIPRA has been supporting this network of municipalities along the way for many years, providing impetus, enabling projects and offering administrative support (see box).

Responses to climate change
"Many people simply can't afford organic produce," Andrea Cleva, 22, tells the group. The student from Pordenone at the foot of the Dolomites believes the government should reward those who make efforts to protect the climate and fine those who are agents of climate change. "Maybe then people will start leaving their cars in the garage."
Standing at the opening of the horseshoe are Katrin Löning and Peter Niederer, jotting down on a flipchart the arguments put forward by the participants. The workshop leaders remember the project kick-off meeting in February when group dynamics were sluggish due to the language barriers and initial shyness. Now, six months later, the ideas and thoughts just keep on coming - in English or whatever the mother tongue happens to be. Those who speak more than one language whisper the translation into the ear of those sitting next to them.
"We want to make young people much more aware of the impact of climate change," says Peter Niederer, who represents Alliance in the Alps. With dynAlp-climate, the network of municipalities has set up an ambitious climate protection programme and instructed CIPRA to manage it. As part of the programme, twenty projects by various municipalities are to be promoted in 2011 and 2012. The most comprehensive one is My Clime-mate. "Our work revolves around the question of what we can contribute specifically to climate change mitigation," says Katrin Löning of the Austrian Institute of Ecology, one of the partner agencies of My Clime-mate.
The answers can be found on the desks in front of the wall bars in the school gym. Stacked there are packs of noodles next to piles of postcards, brochures, posters and calendars. What's the connection with climate change? One look at the pasta reveals all: the light-brown spelt macaroni, which one project group developed together with an Entlebuch pasta manufacturer, is an uncompromisingly regional low-CO2 product, from the ear of the grain to the actual pasta. What's more, for every pack of Klimarönli sold, 50 centimes will go towards a fund to save the upland moors in the Entlebuch biosphere reserve. The region owes its UNESCO title to these wetland areas; acting as giant carbon dioxide sinks, they enjoy special protection. They are regularly cleared of trees and shrubs. And, again, it was a My Clime-mate team that joined in the work in summer, helping to dig and pull up the vegetation.
The brochures next to the pasta are designed to encourage people to be more responsible in the way they use water. The photos depict information panels which a My Clime-mate team set up along the banks of the river So?a in Slovenia. Colour postcards are a reminder of just how precious natural resources actually are. They feature small works of art made by young people outdoors, in nature. Leaves, moss and stones create stick figures while a miniature waterwheel turns in a mountain stream. The back of the postcards contains tips on reducing CO2 emissions: use green electricity and energy saving power strips, put on a pullover and turn down the heating. Anyone sending one of these cards undertakes to reduce their CO2 emissions in future.

Karst and Chrütli
In the afternoon, after the meeting at the gym, the young people set off in small groups to explore the Biosphere Reserve. While some climb into the caves of the karst mountains, others wade through the ice-cold waters of a Kneipp pool or visit a regional cottage industry that manufactures salves, soaps and bath oils. Herbalist Silvia Limacher, the woman behind the Chrütlimacher brand of natural cosmetics, lives on a community farm that breeds cattle and pigs. On the lower ground floor of the farm building the smell of stables gives way to the fragrance of hayseed and coltsfoot. The shelves of her small herb kitchen are stacked with canisters and cans full of wax, oils, salt and dried flowers. Meanwhile a thick syrupy mass bubbles away in a pot. "Marigold salve," explains Silvia Limacher.
Arrayed on a table are beakers, delicate vials, funnels, and jars filled with blossoms. "If you want, you can put together your very own personal bath oil," says Silvia Limacher encouragingly to her young guests. Timidly they sniff at the blossoms and extracts. So whether it's karst caves, Kneipp pools or Chrütlimacher, workshop leader Katrin Löning wants the young people to experience the wealth of nature with all their senses.
In fact, they have all travelled to Sörenberg for a concluding workshop. By the time they leave for home again after four days, they are motivated more than ever. While one team wants to create a website, another wants to shoot short feature films that make people more aware of the issue and can be circulated via the Internet or mobile phone. Some want to put their demands to local politicians, and others still want to go to primary schools and get the children interested in the subject through games and fun. The network of municipalities will continue to assist the young people so they are able to implement their ideas and projects.
The participants intend to present their findings at the Alpine Week in the Swiss valley of Val Poschiavo in September 2012. So one way or another, climate change will continue to keep this young generation busy - long after all the Klimarönli has been eaten up and the natural sculptures have worn away.

Mathias Becker (text) and Eric Vazzoler (photos), Zeitenspiegel features

Communities: getting together on behalf of the climate
Alliance in the Alps (AidA) comprises more than 300 municipalities which, together, are striving to make the Alps a living environment with a healthy future. CIPRA participated in the founding of the network of municipalities in 1997, and since 2000 it has been running part of its secretariat.
CIPRA International drew up the dynAlp-climate programme on AidA's behalf and is in charge of its management. It co-ordinates the choice and follow-up of the twenty financed projects - including My Clime-mate, which organises events and campaigning activities on climate protection among its member municipalities and beyond. The three-year programme has a budget of EUR 800,000 financed by Mava, the Swiss Foundation for Nature, and co-financing arrangements set up by regional authorities and the European "Youth in Action" project.