Ready for a dollop of good news in an otherwise bleak world? A movement begun by high school students in Salt Lake City last year has culminated in the adoption of a 100% renewable energy policy by the local school board. Last week, the board voted unanimously to set a goal of transitioning the school district to 100% clean electricity by 2030 and off of fossil fuels for heating and transportation by 2040.
This effort was led by students from Salt Lake City’s three major high schools in collaboration with Utah Sierra Club and its Climate Parents program. Leading up to the school board meeting, the students obtained 800 signatures on a petition signed by students, parents, and staff asking the board to support the clean energy policy, according to a news report from the Sierra Club.
The petition listed the advantages of a clean energy policy, including saving money on energy bills, improving indoor and outdoor air quality through energy efficiency measures, and creating opportunities to improve STEM learning by exposure to on-site clean energy technologies. Of course, playing a part in the worldwide effort to address the impacts of an overheating planet was in there, too, but broad policy goals have difficulty attracting votes. Saving money while improving educational outcomes are the sorts of things school board members like to hear.
Andie Madsen, a leader of the Students for 100% Clean Energy team, said after the school board vote, “We are really grateful for the board’s leadership in transitioning our district to 100% clean energy, and we’re inspired that something we put into motion as young people will be put into action by our district. People in our generation are facing a lot of uncertainties, from COVID-19 to the climate crisis, and this is a win we’re happy about because it demonstrates our commitment to building the strength of our communities.”
Another student, Mahider Tadesse, said, “When I started an environmental club at East High in September, I never thought our involvement would reach this level of impact. This campaign has shown me what a big difference a group of high schoolers can make in leading the way for climate action that has the potential to expand equity by investing cost-savings into underserved students and improving indoor air quality, which will help students — myself and community included — who are disproportionately exposed to air pollution where they live.”
That last sentence is an important reminder that communities of color are often disproportionately affected by the oil, gas, and chemical industries, whose corporate activities often amount to a proverbial knee on the neck of the people who live there. The clean energy campaign is a hopeful sign. America’s youngest people see clearly the threat to their future from an economy dominated by fossil fuels. Their focus on clean energy has empowered them to work together to make their voices heard.
The fact that their campaign was able to continue during a period when schools were closed also highlights the changes the coronavirus pandemic is bringing to society. More and more people are finding they can continue to do online what they used to do in person. The meeting of the school board where this vote was taken was conducted online with the students, their parents, and supporters participating digitally.
While school boards in Los Angeles, Milwaukee, San Francisco, and several districts in Minnesota have all adopted similar clean energy policies, the resolution approved by the Salt Lake City School District is more comprehensive than most.
“As a student who has been a part of the SLCSD all my life, I am so excited about this resolution because I want to leave a legacy and create a better district for all future students. This entire movement has been so inspiring to me because it has shown me how big of a difference a group of highschoolers can make literally in the future of our school district and even our city,” says Emma Johnson.
“To me, the Clean Energy Campaign is incredibly significant because it demonstrates the power of young people. It illustrates how students can band together to accomplish something that no one has even attempted before; something that will continue to benefit their communities years after their time in high school ends,” adds Andoni Telenodis.
Another student, Lola Moldonado, summed up the student lead clean energy campaign this way. “I think that 100% clean energy is important for SLCSD because it puts us as leaders on climate action, and with young people being particularly vulnerable to fossil fuel pollution, it is important that schools advocate for climate solutions.”
Not everything about education involves remembering dates and numbers or taking tests. Education is about learning to think and how to address perceived shortcomings in society. What these students accomplished is equivalent to a Ph.D in life. Good on ya, kids!