Guest Post by youth activist Cole Rasenberger
Recently, I was fortunate to be asked to speak in a live panel interview at the Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC) world conference about my youth activist experiences. ASTC has been around for 40 years. Everyone I met was highly educated especially in science. I was very nervous, but it was incredible to share my experiences with others and to learn from others, too. I spoke at the Raleigh, NC Science Museum. Everyone was so thoughtful and interested in saving our planet in one way or another.
It was inspiring! I learned if you truly believe in something, speak out so others hear you and get inspired to help save our planet, too.
In 2009, my 2nd grade Talent Development teacher assigned a project for me to write a letter to a government official on an environmental issue. After researching topics, I came across Dogwood Alliance’s website that talked about the terrible destruction North Carolina Coastal Forests were going through. NC coastal forests have the highest concentration of different tree species, aquatic diversity and wetlands in North America. There are over 31 million acres, but thousands being destroyed daily. Furthermore, many endangered animals and plants are being destroyed, too.
This motivated me! Instead of just one letter, I decided to take on the paper packaging industry and become an Environmental activist for my generation.
This is where my story begins, along with the start of my wonderful relationship with Dogwood Alliance. And, a big thanks to Mr. Scot Quaranda for always teaching me and making me laugh! They are all awesome and do amazing things for our environment! Let me tell you a little more about my journey over the past few years of my life.
A few years ago, I realized the companies destroying the North Carolina Coastal forests were the paper mills producing paper for fast food restaurants.
This sparked an idea: since the paper mills would not change their forestry standards, I knew the only way to make an environmental change was to get the fast food restaurants to want to use more post-consumer recyclable paper.
My first target was McDonald’s for my campaign. I knew I was only one voice, so I decided to get my whole school to sign postcards. Together, we were 2,500 voices strong. Successfully, I mailed McDonald’s 2,500 handmade signed postcards asking them to be an “environmental leader for my generation by increasing the use of post-consumer recycled fiber in their paper products.” Months later, McDonald’s informed me that they would be using more post-recyclable fiber in their paper and changing their bags to 100% post-consumer recycled fibers. I was ecstatic!
After this win with McDonalds, I was motivated to do more!
Spring of 2010, I decided to take on a giant in the fast food industry: KFC. My mission was a bigger and took 12 months to organize to get seven schools to agree to support my project by signing over 6,000 postcards that would be hand delivered to KFC. During this time, I spoke out to different media venues to make an environmental change. Some of these were: Radio Disney, Rick Ranger Magazine, Charlotte Today show, Story of Stuff the podcast and local papers. I communicated about the North Carolina Coastal forest issues at local events: Christmas in Davidson and Davidson Farmers Market. For a year, I sent numerous letters, email, voice and videos messages to KFC trying to set up a meeting to hand deliver these postcards.
In March 2011, my sister Kaela, two friends and I were invited to meet with two KFC executives.
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Although we flew out to KFC headquarters, the executives did not give me any positive feedback that they were going to use more post recyclable fibers. So, I walked away a bit defeated, but didn’t give up. For the next year, KFC did not respond to me too much. I campaigned again with friends and sent more video message to KFC’s CEO begging for their help to save the richest temperate freshwater ecosystems in the WORLD and to help to stop and slow down the destruction of these forests by using recycled paper.
In 2013, with my help, Dogwood Alliance was able to convince KFC to use more recycled paper in its packaging and to stop using Endangered Forests, too! In addition, KFC will not convert important NC wetlands to tree plantations, which protects land for important wildlife like the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker and Venus Flytrap. Greenpeace also got KFC to protect Indonesia’s rainforest during this time. My project was 100% successful!
As for 2014, unfortunately, there are new threats to North Carolina Coastal forests that are growing dramatically! Companies from Europe are now using these forests for fuel to generate electricity, despite growing scientific evidence that burning trees will accelerate industrial logging, increase carbon emissions compared with fossil fuels and threaten human health with air pollution similar to burning coal. Destroying our natural forest for biomass is a threat to the biodiversity of our plants and animals. Burning our forests for fuel is not the solution to our energy crisis. We need to invest in true renewables like wind, solar and geothermal.
I will be starting a new campaign to stop this new threat, and we will need your help protecting these forests. I am starting to organize a new campaign for Earth Day 2015.
It will be a national day for students to protect our Southern Forests! If you are interested in your school participating please let me know. The more schools we get to participate, the stronger our message will be!!! Please contact campaign organizer Emily Zucchino for more information.