Meredith Adler empowers the next generation of clean energy leaders.
This 33-year-old is executive director of Student Energy, which has already supported over 15,000 young people in Canada and 50,000 students in 120 countries to accelerate the fight against climate change.
This piece is part of a series of profiles highlighting young people across the country who are addressing the climate crisis. These extraordinary humans give me hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.
Tell us about Student Energy.
We are a Canadian not-for-profit with chapters in 26 countries. We provide information so students can understand energy systems and access training and skill building so they can lead their community’s clean energy shift. Our scholarships, fellowships, innovation startup grants and networking events allow new ideas to be pitched to existing energy leaders and investors. We also ensure youth voices are heard in policy reform at global climate change discussion tables. Our goal is to help youth identify barriers to leading the energy transition and to work with them to remove them.
What impact are you having?
Twelve million people have explored our energy systems map and accessed other information on our website. One example of an individual project is a fellowship supporting Simon Fraser University students to study opportunities for carbon capture and storage. We support the SevenGen Council to engage First Nations, Métis and Inuit youth in clean energy through a conference and then work closely with another Indigenous-led group, ImaGENation, to provide mentorship and startup funds for projects like solar-powered greenhouses, energy efficiency for housing in communities, and new types of energy generation.
This 33-year-old is the executive director of Student Energy, which has already supported over 15,000 young people in Canada and 50,000 students in 120 countries to accelerate the fight against climate change. #YouthClimateAction
In South Africa, we helped a group of artists showcase climate and social justice issues, and in India, we helped young people lead community teach-ins on the advantages of solar and the importance of political engagement. In the Philippines, student chapters are improving food security and in Mexico, a rural solar panel installation company grew out of Student Energy. Ugandan youth Brian Kakembo credits his interactions with Student Energy for inspiring him to learn how to turn waste into clean briquettes as cooking fuel.
Our global youth energy toolkit encourages peer voter engagement to support politicians who understand the climate emergency. We train young delegates to international policy conferences in public speaking and writing policy.
How did Student Energy get founded?
In 2009, a group of business students in Calgary could see the need for entrepreneurial climate and sustainability-focused innovation in the energy sector but were frustrated by the absence of opportunities available to them as young people and their exclusion from decision-making. The energy industry is predominantly led by older white males with much systemic exclusion. Since its inception, Student Energy has worked to change this since it is in no one’s best interests.
How did you get involved?
I landed a job with Clean Energy Canada when it was just starting up and learned so much by having to be an assistant to everyone. My boss James Glave and founder Merran Smith encouraged me to learn the importance of asking for help.
Student Energy has a staff of 40 in five countries. We have grown so fast, it is sometimes hard to keep up. But I have a suite of mentors and I am not afraid to ask. When I went to my first United Nations Conference of the Parties in 2012, I just walked up to someone on a panel with me and told her I had no idea what I was doing and asked for help. As is usually the case, it was generously given.
How did the way you were raised impact you?
I was raised in Nevada by parents who worked in politics and rural development. They taught me it is everyone’s duty to try to create a better world and this sometimes means sacrifice. My mom would bring home a new exchange student and it was taken for granted they needed my room more than I did. I was not infrequently “voluntold” to babysit for parents who needed a night off. My dad was in politics because he thought this was an effective way to help solve problems for people.
What makes your job hard?
For every opportunity we can offer, we have 1,500 deserving applicants. The need and the appetite are enormous.
Our young team is learning together but we do make mistakes and I carry that responsibility.
The funding landscape has been really tough for youth and there is often an attitude of dismissing the importance of diverse voices at the table.
What gives you hope?
It is incredible what students can do given a bit of encouragement, some mentoring and a small amount of cash. Young people are so aware of the need for action. Net-zero well before 2050 seems entirely doable to me.
What advice would you give to other young people?
Don't be paralyzed by choice. Do the imperfect thing. You will make change and learn.
What about older readers?
If you have someone in your life who is young, hang out with them. Their energy will inspire you. If you don’t, find one. Your wisdom and encouragement might make all the difference in the world.