Eco-crusaders urge teens to say YES! to environment

February 09, 1994|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Sun Staff Writer

They've been called green teens and eco-crusaders and they admit to being vegetarians. Yesterday, four young people gave Baltimore teens a sampling of what YES! (exclamation point included), or Youth for Environmental Sanity, is all about.

William Leggett, 19, of Houston, set the pace for the group's high-energy show presented to about 400 Baltimore City College students. Wearing a football jersey and jeans, his long brown ponytail flopping, he raced down the aisle, leaped onto the auditorium stage and joined the game-show skit already in progress, "Your Life Is in Jeopardy."

"How much time does it take man to destroy a rain forest the size of a football field?" said "Jeopardy" hostess Jamie Peacock.

"One second, one second," panelist Leggett said.

"Absolutely correct for 10 points!" said Ms. Peacock.

The pop-culture references and non-stop action of the show are specialties of YES! which was founded in 1990 in Santa Cruz, Calif., by Earth-Save and other environmental groups.

"We're geared for high schools," says Mr. Leggett. "That's the time in life when young people are trying to focus and develop opinions. They relate more to us than some older person speaking to them."

The messengers, who audition and spend several weeks preparing to tour, are barely older than the audience. But the six young people currently in the group -- four people tour while two take breaks from the road -- are committed to raising awareness among teens about environmental issues. The four who appeared in Baltimore during their 15-state tour were:

* Mr. Leggett, who delayed his entrance to the University of Texas to join YES!

* Ms. Peacock, 17, of Memphis, Tenn., who took a break from her senior year in high school to do the tour.

* Chad Hoeppner, 19, of Denver, who put in a semester at Dartmouth College before going green.

* Kai McGee, 22, of San Jose, Calif., who had been working and attending college in San Jose until she recently was called back into YES! service for a second tour.

After the opening skit, each of the four issued short "I-statements" on their environmental concerns, then presented a slide show on world environmental dangers and suggestions on ways young people can make a positive environmental contribution in small ways.

Mr. Hoeppner suggested recycling and joining an environmental club.

"Did you ever hear of boycotting?" asked Ms. McGee. "Don't buy from companies you know are doing bad things for the environment."

Ms. Peacock, who did her I-statement on ozone depletion wearing a radiation suit, talked about conserving energy and using bulk foods to reduce excess packaging.

"If you didn't have beef for dinner last night, you saved 500 gallons of water and 16 pounds of grain that go into a pound of steak," said Mr. Leggett. "Food choice is something we all can do."

He caught the audience by surprise at the end when he said: "We've thrown a lot of facts at you today. But did you ever think we may

be lying? Go out and find out for yourselves what's going on. The best weapon you have is your mind."

Afterward the reactions were mostly favorable.

Curtis Cooper, 18, is a City College senior and local YES! coordinator. His family put up the foursome in their North Baltimore home while they were here. "We have a small environmental club in school but in general there's not a big awareness of environmental issues," he said. "I think they made a big impression."

Leah Mason, 14, Wayne Phillpots, 14, and John Griffin, 15, all ninth graders, agreed with Mr. Cooper. So did Natalie Nash, 18, visiting from Dulaney High: "Very inspiring."

It's the same reaction YES! received at its last stop in Fayetteville, N.C. "We're really behind in recycling down here," said Noelyne Langston, who runs an environmentally conscious hair care business and sponsored YES! there. "I think they really motivated some kids."

Domenic Thompson, a Baltimore City College biology teacher, said he hoped the assembly here would encourage more membership in the environmental club.

John W. Passacantando, co-director of Ozone Action in Alexandria, Va., who drove up to see the YES! youngsters for the first time, had even greater hopes.

"The YES! tour is planting seeds for the next environmental groundswell," Mr. Passacantando said. "The beauty of getting young people involved that they still have enough imagination left to offset the cynicism these issues can incur."

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