One Earth Collective, Young Filmmakers Workshops: Live action, grades 3-5, River Forest | PROVIDED

With climate change making headlines, two local organizations are working to bring climate action to the neighborhoods we live in. Seven Generations Ahead and One Earth Collective are active in Oak Park, River Forest, Austin, Chicago and beyond.

Gary Cuneen founded Seven Generations Ahead 20 years ago and says the organization’s mission has always been to address global environmental issues on a local level. He says, “The climate crisis is our first and foremost concern.”

It’s Our Future youth delegates from Seven Generation Ahead met with Uili Lousi (3rd from left), a representative from the Kingdom of Tonga, to discuss the impact of the climate crisis on Pacific Island nations, at the climate summit COP26 in Glasgow. | PROVIDED

Fresh off a trip to climate summit COP26 in Glasgow with local high school students, Cuneen says one arm of bringing climate action into communities is to work with students to engage them in the mission.

While Cuneen says the climate crisis needs to become more of a priority for decision-makers, he emphasizes that change is needed on all levels of society from the individual, to the municipal, to state government to national government and beyond. 

On the individual level, sustainable local food, clean water conditions, plant-based food movements and composting are small steps that can add up to make a difference.

SGA works on sustainability measures with many Chicago-area municipalities and organizations. In Oak Park and River Forest, SGA collaborates with school districts and the Park District of Oak Park.

In addressing energy use, Cuneen says it’s important for institutions like these to look for cleaner energy and explore solar energy and procurement. SGA is currently working with the village of Broadview to support its efforts to create a solar corridor in an industrial area and has a project in Waukegan to provide solar energy to low- and moderate-income communities.

Cuneen says it’s important to realize that sustainability doesn’t have geographic boundaries. As climate change threats make headlines and more people are in agreement that action is needed, Cuneen says the next step is to facilitate mainstream institutions to do more.

Ana Garcia Doyle, founding member of One Earth Collective, started the organization as a film festival in 2012 to bring attention to the climate crisis, and says the group now focuses on generating awareness of climate issues and getting people excited enough to take action to combat the climate crisis.

While the film festival continues to be a way to educate and create interest in the movement, she says community partnerships bring the fight to the local level year-round. 

A partnership with BUILD Chicago in Austin is one example. Garcia Doyle says combining BUILD’s focus on anti-violence and gang prevention with a farm on the West Side where kids can feed chickens and participate in programming featuring locally grown food is a way to bring sustainable practices to a new generation.

BUILD Chicago in Austin | PROVIDED

OEC also works with local high schools and colleges, as well as museums like the Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium. Garcia Doyle says, “We’ll work with anybody.”

She says, “Our film festival and youth projects are all tools to help us educate and give people concrete things to do. We want people to act. After our films, we have discussions, and then we always end with an action component — something people can do to take their interest another step.”

The One Earth Young Filmmakers Contest has evolved into a national competition with local roots. Young people can send important environmental messages through short videos that inspire change or action. With workshops in River Forest and Chicago in December and a Young Filmmakers Online Academy, OEC aims to reach a new generation of activists.

Garcia Doyle says, “We use film and youth programming because it’s a version of storytelling. If you connect with a story, you can feel the connections to your own life. We already have so much data on climate change. If people feel emotion, that’s what makes them take action. We need to get heads, hearts and hands engaged.”