For as long as she can remember, Sarah Cooperman has loved animals. Her Nature Center pre-school taught youngsters to treat the environment kindly. There was a petting zoo there. Sarah was hooked.

"Humans are so complex," she says. "Animals are complex organisms too, but their behaviors are so simple. There are so many types of animals, but we're all on the earth together."

In second grade, Sarah wrote a passionate letter to President Bush about whaling. She's still writing -- and now people are listening.

Last month -- at the end of her sophomore year at Staples High School -- Sarah learned she has been selected as Fairfield County's 2011-12 Arctic Ambassador. The contest, run locally by Gault Energy and Polar Bears International Alliance, identifies teenagers around the world who are strongly devoted to environmental issues.

In October, Sarah will join 16 other students from around the world at a leadership camp in Manitoba, near the Arctic Circle. They'll work alongside leading scientists, educators, photographers and filmmakers to study polar bears in their native habitat. Sarah and the others will get a firsthand look at the effect of climate change on polar ice.

Sarah follows in some big Westport footsteps. Last year's Fairfield County Arctic Ambassador was another Staples student, Brian Hershey.

Staples High School "really inspired my love for science," Sarah says. A variety of courses led her to consider a possible career as a marine biologist, zoologist or large animal veterinarian.

Sarah is a member of Staples' "Team Marine," which competes in the National Ocean Science Bowl. "It's like `Jeopardy' for marine life, international environmental policies and the history of marine exploration," Sarah explains.

In addition to expanding her knowledge, the Science Bowl helped Sarah "think quickly and work in a high-pressure environment."

She has done plenty of work on her own, too. She designed a pair of research projects. One examined global climate change and weather; the other demonstrated how ash from dead trees and plants acts as a natural fertilizer for new plants.

In the past year, Sarah has volunteered over 100 hours at Norwalk's Maritime Aquarium. She talks to toddlers, teenagers, adults and senior citizens about everything from blubbery harbor seals to furry meerkats and ferocious sand tiger sharks. Whenever she speaks, she mentions the effects of global climate change on Long Island Sound.

"I've become much more comfortable talking to diverse groups of people, and educating them about things I'm passionate about," Sarah says.

Closer to home, she pushed her family to change to wind energy and hybrid cars.

And last year, she decided to become a vegetarian.

"I learned that livestock production is responsible for 18 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions," Sarah notes. "I've always advocated personal choice as the largest factor in decreasing emissions to help end climate change. Being a vegetarian was the natural step to take."

In her Polar Bear International contest essay, Sarah wrote: "I can't bear to see any animal, especially the incredibly enthralling, glorious polar bear, disappear with the snap of our human fingers. I have a pure, genuine desire to keep the environment as green, grey, dry, muddy, watery, or colorful as it was intended to be before humans came along and stamped upon it with damaging industrial methods. I stand for nature, and I stand for every beautiful creature it is home to, like the magnificent white bear."

"We were extremely impressed with our applicants' poise and sense of purpose," says Westport Green Village Initiative Eileen Flug, who served on the competition selection committee. "The choice was difficult, but Sarah's leadership skills, passion for conservation, and her ideas for engaging Fairfield County youth with age-appropriate conservation activities won over the committee."

A biker and backpacker who has been inspired by trips to places like the high Sierra Mountains, Sarah looks eagerly forward to her trip to the far, far north.

In Canada she will join like-minded teenagers. She will also meet and learn from men and women who inhabit the Arctic Circle. "They know so much about living in the wild, and relating to the world," Sarah says.

Arctic Ambassadors are expected to return to their communities with the understanding that individuals can make a difference -- and with the motivation and means to start engaging their communities.

Sarah will come back to Westport with an action plan, hammered out with her fellow Arctic Ambassadors. Whatever it is, she will work on the young children's component. "It's a cliche, but kids are our future," Sarah says. "I can't wait to help kids do the right thing here."

Westport, Sarah adds, "has such a huge carbon footprint. But small actions have big impacts."

In the years to come Sarah Cooperman will impact Westport in a big way. In fact, she already has.

Dan Woog's"Woog's World" appears each Friday. He can be reached at dwoog@optonline.com. His personal blog is www.danwoog06880.com.