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Raising Our Voices: Amplifying Teen Voices for a Just & Sustainable Los Angeles

TCC student hike in Catalina Island
TCC cohort observe manzanita on Catalina Island. Photo courtesy of L.A. Zoo.

The Teen Council for Conservation began with a crucial question: “What does a just and sustainable Los Angeles mean to you?”

For the Los Angeles Zoo, this question served as a starting point to understand more deeply the issues affecting young Angelenos relative to climate change and environmental justice. We discovered that many students shared similar concerns and challenges, feeling unheard and powerless in their pursuit of tangible and impactful solutions.

The 2022 California NextGen Climate Survey further highlighted the extent of climate distress experienced by California youth between the ages of 14-24, revealing that 80% had encountered some form of climate-related distress. This statistic is just one of many underscoring the urgency of addressing the concerns and needs of younger generations in the face of environmental challenges.

Recognizing the Los Angeles Zoo as a valuable community resource to all Angelenos, we identified a unique role for the Zoo to support local teens in shaping a more just and sustainable city through conservation. By leveraging its position as a community hub, the Zoo could actively contribute to amplifying teen voices, connecting youth and professional networks, and fostering positive change, all of which align with the Zoo’s Conservation Strategic Plan launched in 2021. And so, the Teen Council for Conservation came to life as an annual program geared toward youths interested in growing their skills in leadership, conservation, and community building.

For nine months, up to 30 participants representing each of the 15 Los Angeles City Council Districts gather monthly and meet with Zoo mentors to learn more about conservation, social and environmental justice, and our climate. By empowering these teens to create positive changes within themselves, the Zoo is providing a meaningful pathway to create positive changes in the larger Los Angeles community.

The Zoo’s Teen Council for Conservation was co-created with teens to build a uniting conservation network that supports new generations in leadership through social and environmental action. Over the past two years, the Teen Council for Conservation students have specifically directed their efforts toward areas important to them, including urban greening, pollution, and access to healthy and fresh food.

The Teen Council for Conservation serves as an equitable pathway for young Angelenos to voice their concerns and actively engage in developing meaningful solutions. It is a transformative journey, evolving each year with new cohorts working towards creating a just and sustainable world where people and wildlife thrive, together.