“Our generation is starting to spark change” – meet the teenage winners of The Earth Prize 2024

Floodgate, winners of the 2024 Earth Prize, from North Caroline School of Mathematics and Science

As the world faces a climate crisis, it is today’s teenagers – the leaders of tomorrow – who are stepping up to the plate to devise groundbreaking solutions.

Far from being overawed by the threats facing us all, talented youngsters across the world are offering real hope in the form of creative, innovative ideas designed to tackle some of the greatest climate challenges.

Nowhere have they been highlighted more than The Earth Prize, the world’s largest, most prestigious, environmental-focused competition for teenagers, which awards around $500,000 (US Dollars) in various categories to the best teams and their education institutions.

Organised by The Earth Foundation and now in its third year, the prize puts the spotlight on teenagers aged 13-19, has attracted more than 10,000 young people from more than 2,000 schools, spanning over 150 countries.

Winner of the 2024 Earth Prize is the USA-based Floodgate, a flood prediction and warning technology concept created by four students from the North Caroline School of Science and Mathematics.

Their inspiration was borne out of concerns over how to tackle incidence of flooding which have become a regular occurrence in their state, but it was also important to create a solution which could be scaled up for use way beyond the state boundaries – global even. The teenagers’ ideas have developed into a technology – shortly to become available in an app – which enables governments and other agencies and individuals to plan for flooding. In no uncertain terms, this has the potential to save lives and, of course, help reduce the potential for damage.

One of the team, 17-year-old Sumedh Kotrannavah, described the inspiration which comes from The Earth Prize as ‘unparalleled’.

“The opportunities that you’re going to get from competing in this competition are just going to drive your passion and your project to the next level,” he said. “The things that people our age are creating across the globe is just wonderful – seeing other people pursue these types of ideas are also changing the way we think about our project, pushing us to make edits and make our project even better.

“I think our generation is starting to really spark change and innovate new solutions, and I’m really excited to see in the next twenty years or so what we are going to do.”

Peter McGarry, Founder of The Earth Foundation, said: “Amid the growing environmental concerns and widespread anxiety, it’s truly inspiring to see young people from around the world tackling these issues head-on. The Earth Prize provides a stage for these innovative minds to demonstrate their creativity and the power of collaborative effort. Their solutions never cease to amaze me, and I hope they inspire you as well!”

‘Their solutions never cease to amaze me’

Runners-up for the main award included Team Ceres (Bahçeşehir Koleji Diyarbakir, Türkiye), who are using innovative plasma technology to protect crops worldwide from environmental damage, Team CocoMellow (i-IVY, Vietnam), who are fighting single-use product waste with their revolutionary design for eco-diapers made from coconut coir and banana fibres; and Team Pebble (Eton College, UK), who are tackling energy consumption with a pioneering software that pools computer power.

Angela McCarthy, CEO of The Earth Foundation, added: “The Earth Prize is much more than a competition. It galvanizes the world’s youth to act in a positive way on behalf of the environment. Every year, and within the span of 5 months, the innovative minds of young people worldwide produce remarkable solutions to specific environmental sustainability problems.

“Given the critical challenges facing our planet, their contributions couldn’t be more pertinent. Through initiatives like The Earth Prize competition, we prioritise listening to the voices of youth, fostering a world where their ideas can shape the future.”

‘Climate education allows us to motivate students’

Three additional awards are also given out: Educator of the Year, and three for Mentor of the Year. The top Educator prize went to Aashna Saraf, the founder and CEO of CreatED innovation hub in Mumbai, India. The mentors were chosen after a tough nominations process, in which the students voted for 50 mentors representing 34 countries, finally selecting Elham Ashrafizadeh (University of Toronto, Canada), Francisca Majala Mwaila (Kenyatta University, Kenya), and Yoong Sze Yeong (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore).

Awarding this prize was Bryce Coon, EarthDay.org’s Director of Education, and he explained why competitions like The Earth Prize are so important for young people today: “I was a classroom teacher for 11 years – during this time, I could see that my students were eager to learn more about the climate crisis, and they were showing signs of climate anxiety. Climate education allows us to motivate students and address their concerns.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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