A field full of tall purple flowers blooms in full sunlight.
Blazing star and other prairie flowers bloom at IBP. © Travis Kuntzelman

Stories in Illinois

The Sociological and Environmental Impacts of Climate Change

An interview with Indian Boundary Prairies’ Y.E.T. interns.

In 2019, Debra Williams, TNC’s Community Engagement Specialist, launched Indian Boundary Prairies’ Youth Environmental Thinkers (Y.E.T.) internship program. The program was designed to connect people to people, as well as to nature, all while emphasizing the importance of natural areas and biodiversity. This year, the program’s design provided the interns with the opportunity to explore climate change environmentally and sociologically. Although COVID-19 moved Y.E.T. to a virtual format, the interns were able to continue their research, their learning and their leadership on important environmental issues.    

Illinois state director Michelle Carr recently spoke with the Y.E.T. interns to learn more about the way climate change impacts all of us, and how the program changed their knowledge and understanding of the connection between people and nature.   

Michelle: Let’s start off with introductions! I’d love to hear more about each of you, and how you’ve changed since the beginning of the program, particularly in the way you view people and nature.

Antoine: I’m a senior at Thornton Township High School in Harvey. I first found the Y.E.T. program through the National Technical Honors Society. One thing that drove me to join is that I have a love for science of all kinds. One of the biggest changes from when I first joined until now is that I’m a lot more perceptive of the things I do and how they affect the environment. Now I find myself ready to speak up, because I know how different actions impact nature. The words just want to come out.

Benjamin: I’m a senior at Oak Forest High School in Oak Forest. I found out about Y.E.T. through my school's ecology club. I joined the internship because I love nature. I have done a field study on the bobolink and contributed in conservation by cutting down buckthorn in my area. I felt that this internship would help expand my knowledge of nature. Before the program I didn’t see nature and people as one thing. During the program, I realized that we as people are a part of nature as nature is a part of us and that we can’t live without the environment.

Brittney: I’m a college freshman at UCLA in California. I found the Y.E.T. program at the beginning of quarantine, when I was having an existential crisis and realized that everything I’d been doing, I didn’t want to focus on anymore. I turned to science, because it’s something I have always been driven by. I also care a lot about the environment. Over the course of this program, I have definitely changed my understanding of the intersectionality of people and nature. We are all affected differently by what’s happening with climate change, and so I’ve been able to learn how to work with people to solve environmental issues, and really focus on my interpersonal skills.

Quote: Brittney

Over the course of this program, I have definitely changed my understanding of the intersectionality of people and nature.

2020 YET Intern
Joseph: I’m a senior at Bloom Trail High School in Chicago Heights. I stumbled upon the program when my grandmother recommended it to me. I saw it as an opportunity to learn something new. Before this, I wasn’t really active in the environment. One thing I noticed is that as the program has progressed, I’ve definitely changed and become more perceptive and more aware of the nature around me. I pay attention to the trees, the animals, even the people I see outside—what they do, what they say, how they act.

Matylda: I’m a junior at Taft High School on Chicago’s northwest side. I found this internship because I was bored from being inside and not having anything to do during quarantine, so I started looking for an environmental internship program or a class I could take. I have always cared about the environment, but before this program, I never thought about how climate change was affecting people. I feel like now I look at my actions more as how I’m harming both people and nature. How can I change what I’m doing in my life to help everyone?

Rodrick: I’m a junior at Thornton Township High School in Harvey. The difference between when I first started the internship and now is that I’m way more vigilant of what I do. I’ve learned that everything has a different and bigger effect than I thought it did, so I pay more attention to my own actions.

A screenshot shows nine people on a Zoom call.
2020 YET Internship Program In 2020, the Y.E.T. program went virtual. © TNC

Michelle: Tell me about the assignment that required you to interview family and friends about climate change.

Brittney:  We did this assignment over Thanksgiving break. We all submitted 7-10 questions that we would want to ask people about climate change, and then we each had to interview at least two people. I chose “What is your definition of climate change?” and “What have you been doing to combat climate change?” This was one of my favorite assignments because I’m curious about what other people think. The best thing I learned was that my sister, because of things that I have done in my life to be more environmentally conscious because of this program, has started taking steps in that direction as well. It was a nice feeling to know that my actions can and do change the world around me.

Matylda: I agree with Brittney that this was one of my favorite activities that we’ve done so far. It’s really interesting to hear other peoples’ viewpoints. Everyone comes from a different background, and some people may not have climate change as a priority, while other people think about it all the time. For example, my dad is really nature focused, and the answers he gave almost sounded scripted. My grandmother, on the other hand, she didn’t grow up hearing about climate change in school and only learns about it on the news. It was interesting to hear their different viewpoints and how they connect to it in terms of intergenerational differences. 

Michelle: What was your most surprising discovery during this internship?

Benjamin: The most surprising thing that I discovered was that climate change isn’t just about the environment. How people view and interact with each other is a climate too and that over time views or actions will change. I also didn’t know about the urban heat islands that occur in cities which is where the area experiences higher temperatures than the surrounding areas.

Rodrick: The most surprising discovery I made was that environmental racism exists. When I first heard that term, I wondered about how nature and racism could be linked, but when you put a specific group of people in a worse neighborhood based on their race or class, that’s environmental racism. Now I always talk about it, and now that I know what it is, I actually notice it more.

Antoine: One of our projects on climate change and plant phrenology required us to do research and observations on trees in our own neighborhood. Matylda and I both noticed many of our trees had black spots on their leaves. The spots were a pathogen, and basically the trees were sick. When I was younger, I didn’t notice this. Through my research, I learned that climate change is altering temperatures in ways that the trees aren’t used to. The climate zones are shifting. So the tree has to put its resources into protecting itself from climate change, instead of protecting itself from these sorts of pathogens.    

Quote: Joseph

What we learned in this program is that there are many climates around us. Nature isn’t the only climate. The relationship we have with other people is also a climate, and we need to make that a great climate.

2020 YET Intern

Michelle: Is it important to consider the sociological impacts of climate change, as well the environmental impacts? Why or why not?

Joseph: I believe we cannot think about climate change only as an environmental issue. We try to think of solutions to climate change, and we can’t do anything on a large scale to slow down the effects without everyone coming together and agreeing on a solution. What we learned in this program is that there are many climates around us. Nature isn’t the only climate. The relationship we have with other people is also a climate, and we need to make that a great climate between neighbors, friends, and even different countries, so we can all come together as world and solve this issue.

Antoine:  I think we have to view climate change both sociologically and environmentally, because it affects both people and nature. The way you talk to people about an issue like this can affect the way that they perceive the information you are providing. If we don’t handle social problems in addition to climate problems, we won’t have the amount of people we need or the force we need to address it, because people will still be preoccupied with their own problems. Ultimately, we are a part of the environment, so when we talk about improving it, we have to talk about improving it for both us and nature.