Teenagers attend environment forum

Three Otago secondary school pupils joined 45 others from around the country at a forum in Wellington to share ideas on sustainability, discuss contemporary environmental issues - and ask politicians some challenging questions.

At the week-long Sir Peter Blake Youth Environment Forum, Dunstan High School pupil Richard Bennett, Kings High School pupil Dunstan Brook-Millar, and Logan Park High School pupil Anisha Hensley Wilson took part in projects which focused on land and water use, household and tourism sustainability and waste management.

They researched specific initiatives and actions plans, including the viability of promoting alternative transport (walking, cycling, or public transport), and energy efficiency policies which might reduce national power consumption.

Dunstan Brook-Millar
Dunstan Brook-Millar
Dunstan Brook-Millar
Dunstan (15) said the field trips and group work were "the most rewarding parts of the week".

During a practical conservation module delegates planted trees and shrubs, at Trelissick Park, Wellington.

They toured conservation areas with park conservators, and Dunstan was impressed by a scheme where members of the public sponsored plots and planted and weeded areas of "adopted" parkland.

He also enjoyed visits to the National Museum, Te Papa, and an ecosanctuary in Karori, but gained most from group project work during which delegates completed research on sustainable tourism and environmentally aware practices for land and water use and waste management.

Dunstan worked in the sustainable tourism team, focusing on assessing architecture and sustainable designs which required less energy for heating and lighting long term.

The team also looked at ways to improve the energy efficiency of existing tourism venues.

Dunstan said they literally took their work home with them and performed an energy audit at the hotel where they stayed and a nearby hostel.

"We looked at things like stickers on switches telling people to turn lights off when they left. It was interesting because the youth hostel had them, but the hotel did not. Another good idea is to have a notice telling people to turn taps off when they are brushing their teeth. It might seem like a simple idea, but it would really make a difference if every one did it."

While the pupils' model was a general action plan, Dunstan said businesses would ideally have a similar energy audit done by a professional assessor.

The plans could also have domestic applications.

"The plan would include long-term goals, like fitting double glazing to windows in older hotels or houses. But it also showed it's easy to cut back on energy use. Even little things like telling people they don't need appliances on standby while they are at work could make a huge saving, or pointing out the difference between top-loader washing machines and front-loaders, which can save about 45% on water heating bills."

Dunstan said the environment forum tied in with school interests.

He is a carbon marshal at Kings High School, and a member of a recently formed energy auditing team. He hoped to build on recent experiences, and would like to study "eco-architecture" in Wellington.

"Eco-architecture is just architecture which looks at ways of making more sustainable buildings. So, if you were designing a house you may have a block of solar panels on walls or geothermally heated houses, which use modern insulation.

"In new houses, solar panels might be used a bit more often. It might cost about $5000 now, but compared to the cost of building, it's not that bad. And people will save money in the long run."

Richard Bennett
Richard Bennett
Richard Bennett
Richard (15), of Alexandra, said last week's forum was "inspirational".

His interest in the environment stems from a NCEA level 1 research project which he completed last year.

"I focused on New Zealand and its involvement in climate change. I have often wondered if we are exploiting our `clean-green' image, and whether we are leaders or followers. I looked at what we were doing to ensure that the habitat and natural beauty in places like Alexandra is restored or retained".

He described the results of his research as "alarming".

"Per capita, New Zealanders produce more than twice as much greenhouse gases as the British, and five times as much as the Chinese.

"But, in saying that, it was interesting to see we are really good in other areas and are addressing some of the problems."

Richard, who was in the sustainable tourism group, attended a breakfast with Environment Minister Trevor Mallard and did not hesitate to ask some probing questions.

"I asked if the "100% Pure" marketing campaign was accurate - if New Zealand really deserved that promotion."

The minister's answer left Richard feeling slightly sceptical.

"He answered questions very thoroughly. But it's a bit far-fetched to blame it all on cows and farming.

I agreed with his overall answer though, which was we lead in some areas and lag behind in others, and that there is room for improvement."

An old environmentalist's adage heard at the forum, "think globally, act locally", struck a chord and inspired him to join a recently formed environment committee at Dunstan High School.

The group's main initiative will be to have recycling bins throughout the school, and to replace waste bins placed outside the school's canteen.

"I've been texting people I met at the forum non-stop since I was there. It was really good to meet so many like-minded people. It really reinforced my interests in environmental issues, " he said.

Anisha and Diane Lee, of Totara.
Anisha and Diane Lee, of Totara.
Anisha Hensley Wilson
Anisha (17) said she was "very passionate about environmental issues" and tried to find practical ways to help with conservation initiatives when possible.

She is the youngest volunteer at the Orokonui ecosanctuary.

Anisha was in a group examining household waste, and audited the home of a Ministry of the Environment staff member.

"I wasn't that surprised at waste levels. The challenge is making information accessible so people think about household rubbish which is produced every day, where does it go. If they are aware of the consequences they may think about ways to reduce waste."

However, she was surprised to learn about energy-saving products which do not work if people change their behaviour.

Many "low flow" shower heads, which are designed to save water are ineffective as people can spend up to 25% more time in the shower once they are fitted, she said.

Anisha is a member of the school's environment group which may look at installing recycling bins at the school, and a water quality project for creeks in the area this year.

She was inspired by a scheme run by Rotorua delegates, in which secondary school pupils go into primary schools and, using cartoons and interactive techniques, educate children on better environmental practices.

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