Climate Champions


Big Journeys Begin with Small Steps

kayla-c-headshotSaturday is an “International Day of Action” organized by Greenpeace, which claims 4,800 events are scheduled around the world toward “a safe climate future.”

This seems like a good time to check in with one of our 2009 California Climate Champions. In this post, Kayla Clark of Atascadero describes her efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by targeting those ubiquitous disposable water bottles  at her school.

In my observation, sometimes when faced with the reality of climate change, we’re frightened. It can be a normal reaction to run back to our previous habits, jump in the large SUV, leave the lights on, and plead ignorance.  It’s indisputable that there is a serious issue that must be dealt with, but only through breaking down the problem to approachable and accessible goals can we hope to improve the situation.

My name is Kayla Clark, and I am a California Climate Champion and a junior at Templeton High School.  California Climate Champions is a program sponsored by the British Council in partnership with California Air Resources Board that selects young people throughout the state who are leaders in communicating about climate change to their communities.  There are 25 of us all together and the program enables us to work with one another to discuss climate change with a wider audience.

Each California Climate Champion is responsible for completing an individual project to communicate about climate change to his or her own community.  My project is to reduce the number of plastic water bottles purchased at my school and in my community by selling reusable water bottles on campus, as well as coordinating the development of a more attractive water source on campus.  For two years, I have seen hundreds of disposable water bottles purchased daily at Templeton High School. We do have recycling bins on campus but many students don’t utilize these bins. I estimate that maybe twenty students occasionally use reusable water bottles on my campus.

The goal of my project is to use water bottles to share a wider message. We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing student consumption of disposable water bottles, and we can permanently change behavior–even if that means affecting only the smallest of lifestyle choices.  At the core of these goals has always been communication. For me, that has meant sharing information at my high school, collaboration with my campus environmental club, and committing to speaking engagements and volunteer opportunities.

I realize that I can’t undertake my water bottle task alone. For that reason I’ve contacted and partnered with my school’s environmental club and my school principal so that we can work together on this project, and they have both been extremely supportive. Having a local network is very encouraging.

I’ve also had a couple of great opportunities to speak with different groups about climate change. I have addressed the Air Pollution Control District (APCD) at their July board meeting and the San Luis Obispo Exchange Club.  Both experiences were really interesting, as many of the audience members had basic questions about climate change and the science behind it, so answering their questions was really exciting.

My presentations are also leading to an expanded network with new opportunities.  From my presentation with APCD, I was given the chance to volunteer at my local farmers’ market for the APCD “Food Miles” booth.  We gave out free reusable grocery bags, and educated the community about food transportation and its impact on our climate, as well as the benefits of eating locally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s true that as a concerned teenager implementing reusable water bottle usage, my audience isn’t the largest. But my project is more than giving students a new water bottle and telling them to fill it up daily. I am trying to influence behavior.

I feel that my actions are part of a ripple effect and by raising awareness to the pressing issues, more ripples are being made and more students and adults are opening their eyes.

The California Climate Champions program is the U.S. component of the British Council’s International Climate Champions program, which identifies young people around the world who are leaders in communicating about climate change and engaging their communities in action. In the US, the program is co-sponsored with the California Air Resources Board (ARB) and selects 10-15 high school students from across the state each year.

See photos from the International Day of Action event in San Francisco.

California Climate Champions Abroad

Jason Bade

Jason Bade Photo by: Karen Codazzi Pereira

Jason Bade is a 2009 California Climate Champion from Foster City, who graduated from Aragon High School in June.  In this post, Bade reports on his trip to Germany earlier this month, where he met with other young activists from across the globe, to discuss strategies for combating climate change.

World Youth Coalesce Around Climate Goals

By Jason Bade

Greetings from Stuttgart, Deutschland! I’m here attending the UNESCO World Youth Festival. Essentially the festival is a chance for youth from all over the world to exchange ideas and culture as well as to be educated on particular issues affecting the world.

For two of the days, there was a World Youth Congress, which focused on energy and climate change. I was one of fourteen International Climate Champions from six countries who came to help lead the climate change workshops, speak at the opening ceremony, and formulate the Stuttgart Declaration [PDF], the ultimate goal of the conference.

On Wednesday evening, several ICCs and I spent time with staff from the festival to formulate all the ideas born in the workshops into that single, cohesive document. In it, we detail a call to action from the youth of the world to the business community, the science community, our elected leaders, and ourselves, in which we expound on what we feel must be done by each respective group, in order to effectively combat and adapt to climate change. The Declaration was then presented on Friday to a local representative from each of those communities in Stuttgart.

While the document itself may contain no groundbreaking concepts, the fact that such a diverse crowd of youth assembled to discuss solutions to these problems–without attention to national pride, patriotism, or selfishness–is significant. Regardless of the actual substance produced on paper, the real benefits of this festival are the connections and friendships made among youth of such myriad cultures. It is when people have these experiences early in their lifetimes that they grow up to treat and respect others’ cultures with zeal unseen in those who have only been confined to their own people. It was an experience I wish others could only be so lucky to enjoy!

California Climate Champions: Project Carpool

Patrick Ouziel

Photo by: Patrick Ouziel

Devin Finzer is a 2008 California Climate Champion from Orinda who graduated from Miramonte High School in June. In this guest post for the Climate Watch blog, he describes how he and fellow Champion Patrick Ouziel were able to start a carpooling program at his school.

Walking to my high school each morning, I trekked past long lines of backed-up traffic. Driver after driver waited anxiously for his or her chance to round the corner into the Miramonte High School lot and hunt for a coveted parking spot. For the most part, each car contained just one person. The passenger seats of large SUVs and mini-vans were often left completely empty. The early-morning situation involved stress, traffic congestion, and unnecessary pollution. Fellow student Patrick Ouziel and I decided we could do something about it.

As California Climate Champions sponsored by the California Air Resources Board and the British Council, Patrick and I are engaged in local and international efforts to take action and spread awareness about climate change. One of the main environmental issues we noticed at our high school was the way students get around. With after-school sports and club activities, juniors and seniors take advantage of their newly earned driver’s license, but by driving only themselves, they often missed out on easy, cost-beneficial, and eco-friendly ways to group together with other students traveling their same route.

Patrick and I are proud to have lobbied for the expansion of our school’s carpool system, which provides carpoolers with designated parking spots each morning. During the school year, we produced several videos promoting eco-friendly transportation and climate awareness, and linked these videos to a web site where students could demonstrate their support for increasing the percentage of carpool spots at our school. We also provided an option where students could sign up as “potential carpoolers” in order to find other ride-sharers who lived close by.

The result?  With the support of students and the administration, we transformed our parking lot reserved for high school seniors into a lot exclusively for carpoolers. Now 80 spots, about 30% of our entire lot, are reserved exclusively for carpoolers.

What are the environmental benefits for the new program? While differing gas mileages and travel distances make exact calculations difficult, we do know that carpooling with just one other person already cuts per-person emissions, as well as gas costs, in half, and we can estimate that our carpool system inspired about 40 additional carpool groups.

While deciding to carpool almost seems almost like a no-brainer, Patrick and I did face significant barriers when we emphasized the importance of ridesharing. From the get-go, one of the main obstacles we had to address was the relationship between driving and teenage independence. Every sixteen-year-old remembers the day he earns his license: the fresh feeling of the driver’s seat and the thrill of taking the wheel, free from parental supervision. Americans clearly love to drive, and apparently, many of us love to do it by ourselves — a 2005 U.S. Census Bureau survey says 77 percent of American workers drive to and from work alone.

In our awareness videos, Patrick and I emphasized that carpooling doesn’t have to be a sacrifice of this independence. Rather, it can be an effective symbol of collaboration: sharing a ride is an opportunity to spend time with friends, or to get to know new people. Teenagers are social beings who feel most content when they are connected with their peers. That’s why we emphasized the importance of a collective carpool movement built on the strong sense of community at our school.

Advocating carpooling can be a great way to start a green movement at your own school or workplace. There are a number of web sites that match potential carpoolers and make ridesharing easy. I’ve reviewed a few of the better-known ride-matching sites on my blog.

Patrick and I will both be going to school on the East Coast next year, Patrick at Yale and myself at Brown. We plan to continue our climate change activism. In particular, I’d like to encourage the installation of solar panels on the roofs of high schools and universities. Our continued environmental efforts will be documented on my blog.

Special thanks to Climate Watch intern Kristine Wong for help with this post.

Climate Change: The Next Generation

California's 2009 Climate Champions in Sacramento. (April 27, 2009)

California's 2009 Climate Champions in Sacramento (April 27, 2009) Photo by Amanda Dyer

Don’t let anyone convince you that today’s teenagers  are all too busy watching Gossip Girl to notice what’s going on the world.   At least some of them are all too aware that they’ll be inheriting whatever their elders leave them in the way of climate policy–a promising start or a global Gordian knot.

So, in Sacramento on Monday, California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols witnessed some thoughtful, engaged, youth-in-action as she fielded sophisticated questions from the newly-inaugurated 2009 California Climate Champions.

Over lunch, these ten high school students asked Nichols about the  future of electric cars in the state, how to help low-income Californians reduce emissions, the availability of renewable energy sources, and how CARB is dealing with political resistance to California’s Global Warming Solutions Act,  AB 32.

Mark Bessen, a 2009 Climate Champion from Palos Verdes High School in Rolling Hills Estates, asked Nichols how society can translate science into political action.

“That is the secret of life,” she replied.

Now in it’s second year, the California Climate Champions program selects high school students from across the state to serve as educators about global warming and to “champion” projects that address climate change issues in their own communities.

This year’s students are planning a diverse set of projects that include alternative fuels, solar power, water conservation, and large-scale composting.  For example, Nicholas Dahlquist  from Rim of the World High School in Lake Arrowhead plans to use chemistry to explore the potential for powering school buses with waste vegetable oil.

“The idea is to take used vegetable oil from deep frying and convert it into a fuel you can use in any diesel engine,” said Dalquist. “The process is relatively straightforward.” Currently, using vegetable oil as a diesel fuel requires some engine modification.

The challenge, he says, is getting people to actually use the fuels, so raising awareness about alternative fuels and working with local transportation authorities to explore possibilities are both aspects of his project plan.

“Biodiesel from waste oil, unlike biodiesel in general, does not require food crops in order to create it.  It’s basically a renewable resource that would otherwise be waste,” he said.

Other champions include Soraya Okuda, a student at Lowell High School in San Francisco, who is working to establish a composting system at San Francisco State University and at the nearby Stonestown Galleria. Another, Jason Bade, from Aragon High School in Foster City,  plans to lobby cities to develop programs that help homeowners purchase and install rooftop solar panels.

Read about the rest of the 2009 Climate Champions and check in on the progress of last year’s Champions and their projects at