Earlier this week, 10 intrepid high school students took to the halls of the State Capitol in Sacramento to stand up for action on climate change and urge leadership on climate change in the legislature. These students, all participants in the Action Fellowship offered by the Alliance for Climate Education, have taken on leadership roles in helping their communities organize a response to climate change. Now, they are taking their message to Sacramento where state legislators have critical votes over the coming weeks on several forward-looking climate bills.
It has become increasingly apparent that today’s youth will be unable to escape the harms caused by climate change. Everyone younger than 30 has almost certainly never lived in a month with temperatures below the historical average. As temperatures continue to rise, droughts and storms will become more common, ecosystems will be disrupted and entire industries may be crippled. The worst effects may not manifest themselves for a decade or two, which means that today’s youth will feel the pinch as they enter the job market and start their own families.
“I’ve lived in Highland Park [Los Angeles] most of my life, and every year there has been a heat wave. … Climate change is lowering my quality of life, all because we don’t have strict enough policies in place to limit carbon emissions.
As an athlete, I run and work out a lot. Because of the bad air quality and heat waves, I’m more at risk of lung diseases. … A friend of mine recently passed out during a heat wave at a track meet. My shoes even began to melt on the asphalt.”
Luckily, youth are beginning to realize their important role in advocating for climate action. The global divestment movement’s roots lead back to college campuses. Starting with campus endowments and moving to Norway’s pension fund, the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world, the movement has caused billions of dollars of investment capital to be pulled out of fossil industries.
Now, youth have their sights set on policy. In March a group of high school students traveled to Washington DC to take their Senator to school on climate, demonstrating that some members of Congress really could use a refresher on high school science.
This week, the ACE Action Fellows met with California legislators and staff to discuss the critical role that the proposed climate bills will play in their future. These bills, SB 32 (Paveley) and SB 350 (de León) would increase the amount of renewable energy in the state electricity supply, reduce the amount of petroleum consumed by vehicles, increase energy efficiency in buildings and extend California’s landmark greenhouse gas reduction policy beyond 2020. Strong leadership on climate change is essential to ensure a healthy and prosperous future for our state.
The Action Fellows sent a clear message to legislators: today’s high school students are tomorrow’s voters, and they do not have the luxury of ignoring climate change—they want to see solutions. Said Maxine: “I want my leaders to take steps to strengthen CA’s climate policy and protect my future, making sure we pass important bills like SB 32 and SB 350.”
ACE Action Fellows (Left to right) Wendy Ma, William Wang and Pearl Xie, with Assembly Member Jim Cooper (D – Elk Grove)
Working in teams, the 10 students braved an unusually busy day in the State Capitol to meet with legislators and staff. Most had just finished their high school year and chose to spend one of their first vacation days advocating for change rather than more traditional summer vacation pursuits. Several students fit a full day of meetings between their graduation rehearsal in the morning and the ceremony itself that evening, including class of 2015 valedictorian Wendy Ma from John F. Kennedy High in Sacramento. For some students, their scheduled meetings weren’t enough and several used breaks to drop in to offices unannounced, hoping to find an available legislator or staff person.
ACE Action Fellows (Background to foreground) Azucena Barrios, Yesica Garcia, Alex Castillo and Spurgeon Wright, meet with Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer (D – Los Angeles)
The students shared how climate change had affected them and their families while urging votes in favor of strong climate policy. For many staff, seeing how much the next generation cared about climate change sent a clear message. Assembly Member Das Williams, Chair of the Natural Resources committee said “I’m really glad to see students like you getting so strongly engaged in this issue.” Assembly Member Bill Quirk did double duty, discussing not only climate policy but his work prior to entering politics, developing computer models of the climate for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
ACE Action Fellows (Left to right) Valerie Santana, Maxine Jimenez and Diego Zapata meet with Assembly Member Jose Medina (D – Moreno Valley)
Ultimately, the students gained a newfound understanding of the complexities of advocacy, as well as confidence in their ability to effectively engage in climate policy. Perhaps the most telling moment occurred at the team’s wrap-up dinner. When asked who might be interested in coming back again and doing more, ten hands went up.