Yahats teen keeps focus on the environment

Youth activist Maia Stout, of Yachats, was invited to be an intern at the State Capitol this year but turned it down to reserve her right to testify on bills. (Courtesy photo)

YACHATS — Holding a press conference for Renew Oregon in an effort to move toward a clean energy economy. Giving testimony in favor of Senate Bill 1530 on greenhouse gas emissions. Serving as an honorary page at the Oregon State Capitol.

Receiving an outstanding leadership award from the Central Oregon Coast National Organization for Women together with her friends and fellow youth climate activists Kaydance Redwine and Hailey Feuling.

And making it a priority to attend her school dance.

Maia Stout of Yachats, a 15-year-old freshman at Newport High School, is a typical high school student in many ways, with long, straight, dark hair and jeans with holes. She made the varsity soccer team in her freshman year, looks forward to playing golf and has a 4.0-grade point average.

But she stands out, as well, with her free time filled with giving speeches and staging student strikes, all geared to support the environment, address climate change and encourage a plant-based lifestyle.

Maia is heartily supported by her parents, Michael and Michele Stout, and said she was raised to have an eye on changing the world.

“Each of us has our own passion — we were raised to find our passion and run with it,” she said of her older brother and two older sisters.

“We raised our kids to understand the realities of the world,” Michael added.

Maia started young on the path to being what she terms a youth climate activist. She was influenced by 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg, but started working for change on her own when she was in second grade in Waldport.

“I’ve always been interested in animals, but I thought the only way to help animals was to be a veterinarian,” she recalled, noting that half her preschool class chose being a vet as their hoped-for profession. “Then I got the idea of speaking in front of people, and I started a petition to have less meat served at school meals — Meatless Mondays.”

When her petition hit a dead end, she decided to speak out even more, and in fourth grade, circulated a petition to have garden plots at her school. That one was a success, and the plots are still in place.

Another petition followed to add water to the school lunch offerings — only milk was served at that time. Now the school has a fountain where students can fill their own water containers and can also get water at their meal.

In sixth grade, she had a club with her friends to preserve the ocean, and created Totes for Our Coast — asking people to donate T-shirts in special donation boxes at local stores.

“We turned them into reusable tote bags,” she said, and she was deeply moved when she saw, a week later, people using the bags.

Not content to stop there, she turned to beach cleanups and adopted Governor Patterson State Park for her school.

“We made it so every school could adopt a piece of beach,” she added.

At Waldport Middle School, she took part in Greta Thunberg’s Fridays for Future, taking off every Friday from school to strike for climate justice.

“About a year and a half ago, Greta realized that what she was doing by turning off the lights and being vegan was not enough, and decided to start a global movement, Fridays for Future,” Maia explained, noting she followed in that path while in middle school. She can’t miss that much time now that she attends Newport High on a variance, but when a global strike is called, she will take the day off.

She proudly noted that more than 100 people took part in the strike she organized in front of Newport City Hall last September. The next one is planned for March 27, a day when there is no school.

And she organized an 11-minute Die-In last year, with students demonstrating that there were only 11 years left to reduce climate change before it is too late.

But regardless of the school days missed, Maia and her peers maintain 4.0-grade point averages and have received awards for school leadership.

“Life as a youth activist is kind of hard,” she admitted. “I have to give up a lot of my social life.”

But last week she made sure to carve out time for a school dance. And she’s played soccer since she was four.

She hasn’t made definite plans for her future, but she is considering work in the political field or in law.

“I want to help people around the world to have sustainable communities, with people having the right to clean water and clean energy,” she said.

Maia and her father, along with climate activist Bill Kucha, of Miroco, recently visited with Lincoln County School District Superintendent Karen Gray to talk about climate change in the school’s new science curriculum. Maia and her father said the curriculum does not link human actions to climate change, and the Stouts want to see the curriculum address how and why climate change is occurring, rather than just saying it exists.

“Why are we not addressing an issue that is so critical to our nation’s future?” her father asked.

Maia said she will attend a school board meeting to plead her case.

She has been asked to write the youth perspective for a Lincoln County climate action plan. She also will have an office at the Lincoln County Democratic Party headquarters in Newport, where she can discuss her climate activism and plant-based lifestyle, Wednesdays through Fridays after school.

She is currently involved with Lincoln County Community Rights, which focuses on water quality and passed the citizens’ initiative to ban aerial spraying in the county, and with Oregon Wild, which works to protect and restore Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife and water. She is the youth representative for 350.Oregon Central Coast, a community group that works for a healthy ecosystem.

And although she was invited to be an intern at the State Capitol this year, that would mean she could not testify on bills.

“I would have to keep my mouth shut,” she said, explaining why she chose not to take on the internship but to reserve the right to testify on bills instead.

Although global issues occupy much of her time, she also finds ways to be with her dog, Clementine, a dachshund-pomeranian mix that accompanies her at global strikes.

Maia also works closely with her father on a radio program, “Healthy Diet, Healthy Planet,” that airs over KYAQ 91.7 FM in Toledo. They discuss the benefits of a plant-based diet and ways it can help solve the climate crisis. They also interview community residents, with State Representative David Gomberg, D-District 10, next up to talk about HB 1530.

“The idea of the show is awareness of a plant-based lifestyle,” Michael said. “Our family is all vegan, we buy all sustainable products, shopping predominantly in the bulk food and produce sections. In the show we’ve also talked about recycling properly, the science behind a plant-based lifestyle, using plant-based products to sequester carbon and limit deforestation.”

“My ideal is to switch to total zero waste,” Maia said.

And Maia helps her father with the class he teaches on a plant-based lifestyle at Oregon Coast Community College. He said he is working on an educational plan to bring awareness to businesses about ways to be more environmentally aware.

Maia accepts that setbacks will occur, and admits she hears opponents yelling and cursing during her protests. But she sees climate education as the best response.

“My whole idea is I want people to have more education on climate change,” she concluded. “Hopefully people who do not believe in climate change will learn from education. I’m going to keep doing this.”

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