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On Sept. 20, in what has been reported as the “largest youth-led demonstration in history” by the Washington Post, millions of people took to the streets with a message to world leaders: Do something about climate change. Now. After all, it’s not the “OK, Boomers” who will have to deal with the lasting effects of climate change. It is the youth who will pick up a crumbling ecosystem, a planet with rising high and sinking low temperatures.

Among the eight official locations in Arizona that participated in the walkout, Flagstaff saw thousands of protesters, with students from Flagstaff Arts & Leadership Academy, Flagstaff High School, Northern Arizona University and more, inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s message of nonviolent action.

“We want to make sure each person has the earth in their hands so they know it’s on us to do something about this issue,” Lauren Pacheco, 17, told the Arizona Daily Sun in September. “If we want the world to keep going, then we need to take the path that involves sustainability.”

Pacheco, along with other youth activists, will participate in a Youth Town Hall and Climate Action Session at the upcoming Climate 2020: Seven Generations for Arizona. The two-day summit, the first of its kind in Arizona, will gather leaders, activists, writers, politicians, artists and more in an effort to shift the conversation about climate.

The thing about that conversation, though, is it isn’t necessarily new, Kate Petersen says. Petersen is a coordinator at NAU’s Center for Ecosystem Science and Society and an organizer for Climate 2020. Born in Arizona, Petersen is keenly aware of the state’s unique vulnerability to changing climates—the Colorado River’s 19-year drought, rising temperatures across the state, depletion of agricultural communities and severe wildfires. One only needs to look back a few months to Flagstaff’s Museum Fire that burned more than 1,900 acres, nine years after the Schultz Fire that burned more than 15,000 acres.

We can understand causality and the science behind these rising temperatures and drought-ridden landscapes. But what Petersen and her colleagues at ECOSS began to understand back in March, when conversations of the climate summit started, was that their role as an environmental organization was to do more than communicate what they know about climate change.

“We felt our center should take some sort of action to offset our carbon footprint,” Petersen says. “We understood that these were questions that were pressing to us, but it was also important to have a statewide conversation. I don’t think that conversation has happened in this response-oriented way on the state level, so I’m hoping this is not a one-time event but a catalyst for this kind of conversation to happen regularly.”

To help instigate that conversation, the summit has brought together partners from around the state and organizations from NAU, Arizona State University and University of Arizona. Among the many voices who will be heard during the two-day summit are Nicole Antonopoulos of the City of Flagstaff’s Sustainability Program, High Country News and AZ Central reporter Deb Krol, former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt, hip-hop artist and activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and more.

Of particular interest is Senator Martha McSally, who will, via video presentation, deliver the summit’s opening remarks. McSally’s track record on climate change has been criticized by some. Although she asserts Earth’s changing climate is “likely” human caused, the senator supported President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement and has a record of voting against climate change regulations. So why invite McSally?

“We thought it was important, if we wanted to have a different kind of conversation, that we tried to elevate it to include decision makers in the state,” Petersen says. “We invited [McSally] and [Kyrsten] Sinema, [Mark] Kelly to offer remarks, understanding that, while our options are informed by science, what we can do rests in politics. The scale of the issue is such that we need policy on the table.”

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Of course, the focus will be on youth activism, with a majority of the second day of events devoted to a youth town hall.

“Any meaningful conversations about what the state can do needs to at least listen and center the voices that will be here. Those are the people that will be grappling with an Arizona that may be hotter and dryer,” Petersen says.

These days, climate change is seemingly a political issue, embroiled in arguments of left or right ideology. When considering the political division and potential ramifications of hosting a climate summit in the conservative state of Arizona, Petersen says the political paradigm is shifting.

“What I’m seeing from the conversations that are being led by these climate leaders is this is an all hands on deck issue,” Petersen says. “The risks and the potential peril is so great, and the clock is ticking. I don’t think that they understand it as a political issue at all. They understand it as a human rights issue, as a survival issue.”

Climate 2020: Seven Generations for Arizona will take place Friday and Saturday, Nov. 15-16, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., at the High Country Conference Center, 201 W. Butler Ave. $25 registration includes breakfast & lunch; $10 for students; free for volunteers. Visit www.climate2020arizona.nau.edu for a full schedule of events and speakers.

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