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Climate Change social & environmental issues

Published on August 8th, 2018 | by Carolyn Fortuna

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How To Solve Today’s Most Urgent Social & Environmental Issues? Assign Youth & Watch The CleanTech Innovations

August 8th, 2018 by  


What does it take to create long-lasting change in a community? Give youth the tools to transform the world for good, and it’s amazing what happens. A nationwide search has found teens and young adults with the best ideas to address today’s most urgent social and environmental issues, such as safety, education, poverty, inequality, food and water security, and more. The T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge has identified the Top 30 US youth who are ready to step up, take action, and drive change. We here at CleanTechnica are particularly interested in social & environmental issues that address climate change solutions, so we’re zooming in on those entries to see how Generation Z envisions a better world through cleantech.

social & environmental issues

Photo from Operation Sustain winning entry at the T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge

The way to change the world is through individual responsibility and taking local action in your own community.” — Jeff Bridges 

The T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge revealed the top 30 winning submissions in July, 2018. These teams will visit T-Mobile Bellevue for a 2-day intensive Changemaker Lab focused on mentorship and skills development. Hosted at T-Mobile’s Headquarters, the trip is part of an all-expenses paid lab and mentoring experience. In addition, teams will get new devices and seed funding from the T-Mobile Foundation to make their ideas a reality – along with the resources they need to keep their projects going long-term.

My grandfather raised me believing in the power of youth to change the world.”

— Philippe Cousteau, Jr.

A review team took several months collecting and reviewing more than 330 unique and creative entries from youth teams (between the ages of 13 and 23) from across the US. Winning teams have been selected based on the following criteria:

  • Changemaker Quality – already taking steps to make a difference
  • Creativity – fresh, innovative ideas that challenge the norm
  • Commitment – devoted to seeing their project through and to make a lasting impact
  • Connection – ability and openness to work with others in their communities

Project ideas ranged from building libraries in underdeveloped countries and distributing excess food to hungry people to facilitating conversations between youth and local law enforcement.

social & environmental issues

The Top Youth Social & Environmental Issues Tackled from the World of Cleantech

No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.”

— Robin Williams

Here are highlights from some of the winning entries that drew upon a vision of clean/tech to target social & environmental issues and foment change.

Dios del Sol is a community-led initiative that will strategically partner with churches, volunteers, and Puerto Rican solar energy associations to help churches finance, transition to, and manage solar microgrids. Why microgrids? Microgrids are electrical networks that feed the greater grid but can also operate on their own. The design of this winning entry says that, in Puerto Rico, no community institution is more apt to assume the challenge of microgrids than churches. Dios del Sol will create a repository of interested volunteers and institutions and convene meetings between religious leaders, local volunteers, and solar panel suppliers to assess the potential a church has for serving as a microgrid. Once an action plan has been agreed to, the plan is shared with church members and its governing body. After full community buy-in is confirmed, the building begins! Solar panel providers get new clients, churches get ownership of their energy, and citizens get a cleaner, decentralized grid.

Operation Sustain makes the science of climate change accessible through an educational city-builder game. In the game, students are tasked with building a successful city by placing houses, food sources, and energy sources, as well as making decisions for the citizens such as the level of taxes or the transportation that they use. While playing, students can learn about renewable energy and pollution through experimentation. Having already won a grant for Operation Sustain, the designer bought 30 devices to bring the simulation to students. Next stop? Scaling the project by making connections with schools, teachers, and teacher organizations.

Tech-Savvy recognizes that not enough kids understand what happens behind the scenes of their everyday technology. When low income families don’t have enough money to send their kids to programming classes, the problem is exacerbated. Technology is the future, and today’s generation can contribute to the change through an inexpensive programming technology called Raspberry Pi. It is the motherboard of a computer to which a used monitor, keyboard, and mouse  can be combined for under $60. These motherboards will be the vehicles to teach children to program.

Urban BEET identifies how the lack of proper eating habits of young people is a problem fueling the US obesity epidemic. The program designer argues that the lack of an opportunity to eat healthy foods violates core US principles, and many of our legislators decline to take action on unhealthy options in schools, let alone in students’ homes. A solution is connecting schools with existing, successful local rooftop gardens like the UpTopAcres farm. With a “share with a neighbor” option through a zero food waste form, produce loss will be minimized.

Vaayu uses mosses to fight air pollution. The air pollution levels of cities have been increasing rapidly, especially in the Asian subcontinent. Almost every major city in North and Central India has hazardous levels of air pollution. The main components of pollution are the fine dust particles (PM) and gases like nitrogen dioxide and ozone. Research shows that 9 out of 10 people in the world breathe polluted air. The winning entry builds biotech filters that use a colony of mosses formulated specifically to purify the air. The final device is 3-meter square vertical garden of mosses — which would have the same carbon dioxide binding capacity as 240 trees — that will trap fine dust particles and carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Mosses don’t need soil to grow and look for nutrients from the air. They have a natural capability of holding dust particles and do so by ionizing their surface and attracting the already ionized air particles. They also breathe in nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. This also helps in cooling the air and reducing noise pollution without electricity and almost no maintenance. The filter has a self irrigation system that uses a small microcontroller to track the moisture levels and releases water when the moisture levels fall below a certain amount.

social & environmental issues

Collage courtesy of Ashoka

The T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge was created in partnership with and sponsored by Ashoka, the world’s leading network of systems-changing social entrepreneurs. For the last 40 years, Ashoka has supported social entrepreneurs as they bring new ideas to systemically address the world’s biggest social & environmental issues and challenges. It has also helped to develop their skills to transform those ideas into national, regional, and global social impact. Ashoka works around the globe with partners like T-Mobile to support youth with developing core competencies of empathy, teamwork, collaborative leadership, and change-making skills.

social & environmental issues

Photo from the Tech-Savvy winning entry at the T-Mobile Changemaker Challenge


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About the Author

Carolyn Fortuna, Ph.D. is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. She's won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavy Foundation. She’s molds scholarship into digital media literacy and learning to spread the word about sustainability issues. Please follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Google+



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