Activism earns boy 1 of 10 spots on committee

Michigan teen to serve at U.N. environmental conference this summer

Posted: Wednesday, January 07, 2004

HOLLAND, Mich. Curtis and Jean Birky said they felt it was important to raise their children to care for the environment, but they admit their son, Christian, has taken those values to unexpected levels.

Figuring that the best way to protect the environment is not to pollute in the first place, Christian and his sister, Kathryn, decided to use clean energy to complete a summer chore. They harnessed their pony to three old-fashioned reel lawn mowers and began a horse-powered lawnmowing business.

"It was great," Curtis Birky said. "It makes very little noise ... and doesn't use any gasoline."

The eco-friendly mowing service was just one example of Christian Birky's environmental activism. He also helped organize a youth environmental group and attended an international youth environmental conference in Canada.

Those accomplishments have led to Birky's selection as one of 10 students from around the world to serve on the junior board of next summer's United Nations Inter-national Children's Conference on the Environment.

The 13-year-old Glenn resident will travel to New London, Conn., in July to attend the conference. The junior board helps organize and run the conference, which expects to draw student delegates from as many 100 countries. The board will submit a summary of the students' positions to the United Nations Environment Program.

Birky has had experience with the program in the past. He served as a delegate during last year's youth environmental conference in Vancouver, B.C., but he also was able to point to a number of personal projects when interviewed by this year's organizers.

Two years ago, Birky along with his mother and sister, organized a local chapter of Roots and Shoots, a youth environmental program started by internationally renowned biologist Jane Goodall, who is serving as chair of this summer's conference.

"We had been reading a lot and seeing how much the environment was being damaged," Birky said. "People aren't paying attention to it and we wanted to do something."

Roots and Shoots performs cleanup activities and community service projects. For one project, the group helped clean up Lake Michigan beaches in the Sauga-tuck area. Birky, who lives along the lake, plans to make clean water issues a priority of his at the conference

"I'd like to make people aware of how much pollution is going into the lakes," he said.

Zac Anderson writes for The Holland Sentinel in Michigan.

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