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The Office of the People’s Counsel sent out invitations for D.C. residents to attend a full day’s worth of panel discussions about climate change on a beautiful spring Saturday. More than 550 people RSVP’d yes.
“I couldn’t believe it,” D.C.’s People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye said of the turnout. “I was so excited.”
The Office of the People’s Counsel’s climate change summit, entitled “Our Planet, Our Future,” focused primarily on engaging young people, ages 16 to 26, though any District resident could come to the April 29 event on the Catholic University of America campus. Speakers included experts, activists and entrepreneurs working in varied sectors of the climate space.
Mattavous-Frye said that the summit—which is the second climate forum OPC has hosted—is a natural extension of her office’s longtime focus on climate issues. The OPC exists to advocate for consumers on issues having to do with utilities, and D.C. legislators have required the agency to consider climate change throughout their work.
“It’s hard to start—where do you even begin, to tackle climate change,” questioned Michael Choi, founder of an Atlanta-based hydroponic farming company called Ponix, Inc. “These conferences are good to just start thinking about how to do that. And getting into fields of STEM, especially with youth, is important because we need scientists, we need engineers, we need thinkers.”
Most of the day’s panelists, like Choi, were adults. Notable names on the lineup included Uwe Brandes, chair of D.C.’s independent Climate Commission, and WUSA Channel 9 meteorologist Chester Lampkin. But the event’s two keynote speakers, Elson Bankoff and Erfan Nabizada, both hailed from area high schools.
“We have to push, we have to take action,” Nabizada, a sophomore at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, said in an interview. “Young people, activists—for example, Greta Thunberg. She’s always protesting, and she’s always saying that there are a lot of other activists who are demanding change on a global scale, or a national scale or even a local scale. And I think they have heard our frustration, but it’s time to make something happen.”