DURHAM, N.C. – A team of Duke University undergraduates is on a mission to take back hope.
This fall, they launched an interactive website called You Change Earth that aims to end climate defeatism and empower people to fight climate change through personalized action plans tailored to their lives.
Ultimately, the students hope their site will inspire more than a million people to act.
“Climate change is such a big problem that it can make individual efforts and voices seem insignificant, but collectively we have more power than we think,” said Saad Ibrahim, a sophomore pursuing degrees in economics and environmental science and policy, who co-founded the site. “A recent report shows that if enough of us change our behaviors and promote change in our communities, we can reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 37% over the next three decades.”
The biggest barrier to achieving that goal isn’t a lack of concern, he stressed, it’s a lack of access to the resources needed to bring about meaningful change. “People want to help, but there is often no local source they can turn to for guidance on what to do, no clear path for them to take action.”
The new website bridges that gap by creating personalized guides for each visitor, based on answers to six questions about their lives.
“By asking questions like do you rent or own your home, what stage of your career are you in, and how much time do you have to devote to your action plan, we can identify projects that will have impact and are well suited to that person at this point in their life,” said Ansh Nanda, a sophomore computer science major and You Change Earth’s co-founder and head engineer.
Visitors can click on links to learn more about each suggested project – why it’s important, what it entails, strategies to achieve it – and then select the ones they want to pursue and save them to an updatable dashboard where they can record their progress.
The suggested projects range from relatively simple ones like “Green Your Diet” to more ambitious undertakings like “Power Your Home through Green Energy” or “Take Action as an Employee.” Each comes with a set of recommended starter steps to get the ball rolling.
“As people take these individual actions, they develop a sense of being engaged in the climate fight, being part of the solution. Our hope is that once they complete their initial projects they will tackle new ones, find new ways to make their voices heard and, eventually, become climate activists,” said Ibrahim.
Although the website is fully functional now, the students plan to continue fine-tuning it over coming months in response to feedback from users and contacts at leading environmental organizations. So far, about 2,000 people have visited the site.
“We’ve had great conversations with some environmental NGOs about how to make it as useful, easy to use, and broadly applicable as possible so eventually it could become a tool they incorporate into their own websites,” Nanda said. “That would go a long way toward helping us achieve our ultimate goal of having a million visitors complete our survey, do projects and become engaged with the climate fight.”
Funding for You Change Earth came from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and from technology entrepreneur Paul English, co-founded of Kayak and Lola.
Since developing their beta version of the website last year, the core team behind You Change Earth has grown – and expanded beyond Duke’s borders. It now includes 10 Duke undergraduates, a graduate of Alabama State University, two designers and a former minister of New Zealand’s Green Party.