Kid Environmentalists

The young people whose stories we’re about to share with you are using their intelligence, innovation and boundless enthusiasm to change the face of environmentalism. Whether it’s through inventing new eco-tech, inspiring a social movement or lobbying for environmentally friendly government policies, these kid environmentalists are making a difference. If they’re our future, I think we’re going to come out just fine.

The individuals we’re introducing today have all been chosen as honorees for the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, an award that seeks to recognize those 8 to 18 years old who have made a marked positive impact on the world around them — the environment and the people and animals who inhabit it.

Twenty-five outstanding young people are recognized by the Barron Prize each year, and the top 15 receive $5,000 to support their work or use to pursue further education. Curious about just what it takes to make it into this elite group? Let’s meet some of the most recent honorees.

The Inventor: Hannah

Photo: Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

When I was 15 years old, I was saving my babysitting money for platform sandals and sighing over a young Leonardo DiCaprio. Hannah, however, a 15-year-old from Florida, has invented a device that “converts the kinetic energy of ocean tides into usable electricity.”


She calls the device a BEACON (Bringing Electricity Access to Countries through Ocean eNergy), and not only has she invented something likely to revolutionize the meaning of clean energy, it costs just $12 to manufacture. The BEACON is made from 90 percent recycled materials, including items you can readily get your hands on, like empty 2-liter pop bottles and recycled spoons. When complete, the BEACON can easily produce enough energy to power an LED light bulb, and Hannah says that she hopes that it can be used in developing countries to “power desalination pumps (for fresh water), run centrifuges (to test blood), and power electric buoys (for maritime navigation).”

The Protector: Xerxes

Photo: Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

Seventeen-year-old NYC native Xerxes has chosen a cause as unique as his name. You see, at just 13, Xerxes began a project (now in its fourth year) to tackle the animal waste leaking from a farm into the NYC public reservoir system. How? Well, first he helped to completely redo the massive gutter and sewer network on the farm in order to redirect two tons of manure each year. That’s two tons of manure that no longer threatens to contaminate a public water supply.

As if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Xerxes has also been clearing invasive plant species and protecting bird species at Muscoot Farm, a county-run farm of over 700 acres that houses rare breeds of livestock, including cows, pigs and chickens. Xerxes hasn’t done it alone, though; his enthusiasm has been infectious, and he’s recruited more than 100 volunteers to help make a nature trail and a learning center to educate the hundreds of thousands of visitors the farm sees every year.

The Educator: Delaney

Photo: Sink or Swim

At 16, many of us are just beginning to discover the world beyond ourselves, but Delaney, a 16-year-old from Florida, has not only discovered that world, she’s using what she’s learned to educate others.

Delaney founded the Sink or Swim Project in order to raise awareness of rising sea levels worldwide, an issue she’s already witnessing with her own eyes in her hometown of Miami. The Sink or Swim Project has presented this issue to more than 10,000 people, educating them about how global warming is contributing to rising sea levels using data from NASA and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association). Her presentations have been well-received and have attracted the attention of National Geographic, which recently recorded one of her talks to include in their show Years of Living Dangerously. As her audience increases, there’s no doubt that Delaney’s impact will as well.

The Activists: Isabella and Willow

Photo: Kids Saving Elephants

At just 10 years old, twins Isabella and Willow are the youngest of this year’s honorees. These two courageous girls founded an organization called Kids Saving Elephants in order to help people learn about the African elephants and the many challenges they face to survival, and to raise money to fight the ivory trade. The girls have made and sold handmade elephant greeting cards and cookies, and hosted lemonade stands. Their booth at the Aspen Music Festival and Saturday Market seeks to educate attendees and help spread a message of conservation and protection for these noble elephants.

The Future Is Bright

Witnessing the effort, dedication and tireless commitment these young people have displayed in trying to change the world is nothing short of inspiring. Popular media loves to paint the next generation as entitled, yet here we are, learning about young people who chose of their own volition to reach beyond social media, clothing and pop culture gossip and change the world instead.

Congratulations to each of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes honorees — you more than deserve this recognition of your hard work, and we can’t wait to see what you do next!

Know any great kid environmentalists? We’d love to hear their stories in the comments below!

Feature photo courtesy of Shutterstock

By Madeleine Somerville

Madeleine Somerville is the author of All You Need Is Less: An Eco-Friendly Guide to Guilt-Free Green Living and Stress-Free Simplicity. She is a writer, wannabe hippie and lover of soft cheeses. She lives in Edmonton, Canada, with her daughter. You can also find Madeleine at her blog, Sweet Madeleine.