Young people work to stop climate change at summit

By GRETA JOCHEM, Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
This article was originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
Even the most ardent believers in climate change may not think they can have any effect on this global problem.

But Grace Garmah, an Amherst-Pelham Regional High School student, has a different view: “You can do something about it,” she said.

Garmah is part of a group of ARHS students brainstorming ways to combat climate change. Their plan: install solar panels in the school parking lot.

“It’s our future,” said Allison Brau, another ARHS student. “It’s going to affect us the most. I guess we have more to lose.”

ARHS was one of six high schools that attended the Western Massachusetts Youth Climate Summit on Nov. 8 and 9 hosted by the Hitchcock Center for the Environment and Mass Audubon’s Arcadia Wildlife Sanctuary. About 60 students participated in the event that included presentations and workshops with an ecologist, an environmental educator, a self-described “bicycle-maniac” and a hip-hop artist who sings about sustainability.

The kids are all right

All over the country, young people are rising up to stop climate change. 

Over the summer, Zero Hour, a climate justice group led by teenagers, made national news when they held a national youth climate march in Washington, D.C.
And this month, the youth climate group Sunrise Movement protested in Nancy Pelosi’s office in support of climate legislation, including a “Green New Deal” — a plan to shift the U.S. to renewable energy while creating jobs led by New York Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Young people are using lawsuits as a tool, too. Juliana v. United States, brought by 21 young people against the U.S. government, argues that the government failed to take action against climate change, putting the future of young people at risk.

And recent research indicates that urgent action is needed.

To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the mark set as a goal in the Paris agreement, would take “rapid, far reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” a major report from the science panel of the United Nations concluded recently.

If we continue with current trends, the report said, we will reach 1.5 C degrees of warming by 2040, worsening events like heat waves and droughts that are already happening around the world.

Western Massachusetts takes action
This year’s western Massachusetts summit expanded on last year’s shorter, one-day summit, said Colleen Kelley, education director at the Hitchcock Center for the Environment said. 

Sue Van Hook, a mycologist who worked for a company that uses fungus to create sustainable materials, delivered a keynote speech. Students also heard from Shaina Rogstad, a PhD student at University of Massachusetts Amherst who studies how melting of Antarctica impacts climate change, and Tem Blessed, a hip-hop artist who sings about climate change and other social justice issues.

On Friday afternoon, students formulated climate action plans, ideas they can bring back to their schools. Thanks to grants from the Northampton Education Foundation and several funds from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts funds — B & E Youth Futures Fund, Edwin P. & Wilbur O. Lepper Fund and Joan Walker Memorial Fund — the summit was able to give $500 to each group.

Cheryl Moreau and Angelina Egland are in the environment club at Frontier Regional High School in South Deerfield.

“We’ve been formulating ways to get people involved,” Egland said of the club. Their peers don’t always talk about climate change as a problem, Moreau added.

They see youth as having a particularly important role in combating climate change: “We’re pretty much the last generation to stop climate change and make the difference,” Moreau said.

But adults don’t always listen to kids, Egland said. She told her dad that eating less red meat could significantly cut his carbon emissions. Scientists would agree with Egland, but her dad was not convinced.

Egland sees the summit and creating climate action plans is a way to take action. 

“It’s a way to get your voice out there,” she said.

Each high school group refined their action plans and prepared to present them to the room and a panel of environment professionals as a culmination of the summit. 

Students from Northampton High School talked about hosting a week focused on reducing food waste and encouraging students to ride their bike to school.

“As a long term goal, we’d like to see environmental education be a requirement for graduation,” said Tim Jacques, a junior at NHS.

Holyoke High School students said they noticed that students throw a lot of perfectly good fruit away at lunch, food that they want to collect to give to sports teams and local organizations. And everyday at lunch, students have a choice of a container of milk or a bottle of water, but they see the plastic water bottle as wasteful. They want to get rid of the plastic water bottles and get a re-usable water bottle filling station instead.

Frontier High School wants to pass along their knowledge to younger students by hosting their own summit for elementary school students. 

“It’s because kids should be more educated at a younger age,” Egland said.

ARHS students explained their idea to install solar panels in the parking lot. UMass Amherst has a similar project and the students plan to contact them. They want to grow and sell flowers to help fund the project, as well as apply to get grant funding. 

It’s an ambitious proposal, the panel said. But as Brau explained, “We want to make an impact in the fight against climate change.”

Greta Jochem can be reached at gjochem@gazettenet.com

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