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To Copenhagen and back: Senior Ellie Johnston spreads the word about climate change

By Ashlea Allen Green

Elle JohnstonImagine working alongside world leaders at the center of a global initiative. For UNC Asheville senior Ellie Johnston, it’s a reality.

The Greensboro native landed in the middle of what she referred to as “the most important legislation in my lifetime” when she traveled to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last December.

“Everything was very new—from the intense pace and speed that everything and everyone was operating at, to the influence of observers in shaping the outcomes and way they were publicized to the world,” said Johnston, 22.

Center for Health and Wellness

Senior Ellie Johnston traveled to Copenhagen, Denmark in December 2009 to participate in the United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Chosen after a highly competitive selection process, Johnston joined an elite group of young leaders in Copenhagen. She served as part of a delegation representing SustainUS Agents of Change, an organization that facilitates youth involvement in international policy-making and advocates for a sustainable future. Working for a sustainable future is what Johnston is all about.

Long before crossing the Atlantic to make a difference in Copenhagen, Johnston was tackling climate change regionally through UNC Asheville’s Active Students for a Healthy Environment, the North Carolina Youth Climate Coalition and the Southern Energy Network. In the classroom, she has researched topics such as environmental literacy and the effects of climate change on insect populations.

The U.N. climate talks yielded the Copenhagen Accord, a first-time collaboration among the U.S., China and other major developing countries on ways to stop climate change. But Johnston feels the agreement “falls short of what is needed.”

For her, climate change is not just a textbook issue—it is a real-world phenomenon.

“I have learned how privileged I am to live in a place where the effects of climate change are distant or felt nominally. Others are not so fortunate and are currently struggling with the effects of record droughts as in Australia or rising sea levels that are compromising the sovereignty of nations as in the Maldives,” she said.

For Johnston, the long path to restoring balance to the planet includes engaging others in the issues. In the few months since Copenhagen, she has spoken to more than a dozen local institutions and organizations, and reminds her audiences that addressing climate change “is not something that ends or begins with a college degree or a job.”

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