Following 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg’s comments targeting world leaders for their lack of action against climate change, some MVHS students took to their Instagram accounts to post about the issue, including senior Ananya Rajagopal. Believing that Thunberg’s message was an important one, Rajagopal shared Thunberg’s statement on her own Instagram story.
“Usually, you hear inspiring talk like, ‘Oh, you know, the world is ending, we need to change, let’s go,’” Rajagopal said. “But [Thunberg] said, ‘How dare you? ... Yeah, you’re right. I should be in school. But I’m forced to take a stand for something that’s so important for all of humanity, literally, because you guys aren’t doing anything about it.’ It was a very powerful statement.”
AP Environmental Science teacher Kyle Jones believes that the need for meaningful action is more critical than ever before. Even when only considering human concerns, Jones believes that climate change has become a problem that can no longer be ignored.
“[Climate change] is probably the most pressing problem on an international scale that humans as a species face,” Jones said. “We’re going to have [fewer] resources available to us and will suffer as a consequence. So I think if you’re just thinking from a human perspective, just that one aspect of decreasing biodiversity is a real problem.”
Jones explains that many of the resources humans rely on, including food, medicine and other essentials, are all dependent on food webs with high biodiversity. Because biodiversity is linked to climate stability, the rate at which the climate changes has the potential to devastate resources and other ecosystem services. Jones adds that climate change, while a serious threat to the environment, is difficult to combat because it is a global problem that everyone contributes to.
“If I’m here, and I pollute my water and I pollute the water here, I might affect people in this watershed downstream of me,” Jones said. “It’s relatively isolated. But if I burn fossil fuels into the air, that just diffuses to global air, basically. So it’s hard because everybody is contributing, regardless of where they live.”
Rajagopal also sees the challenges in tackling climate change. Because of global economies’ reliance on contributors like fossil fuels, there is no feasible instant solution.
“You can’t just shut down oil and [say], ‘No more oil,’ even though that’d be great,” Rajagopal said. “You can’t be like, ‘We’re going to cut every single carbon emission right now’ because there are so many industries that are so dependent on it that society as we know it today would collapse. There has to be stabilized change, just because it’s so complex and there’s so much politics involved with lobbying and stuff like that. It’s just harder than it seems.”
Agreeing with Rajagopal, sophomore Conner Liu says that there should be a compromise in place of more controversial reforms that are currently being proposed like the Green New Deal — a bill that stresses that the Earth is not damaged beyond repair, but that isn’t harsh enough to destabilize the economy.
“Currently the climate change reforms that many of the leading politicians in our countries propose are, in some ways, a bit too extreme and are taking way too big of a step,” Liu said. “And that really will scare like a lot of people in the U.S. whose jobs may be vastly impacted by quickly eliminating the many industries have been in the U.S. for centuries.”
However, even reaching a compromise can be difficult because of the imbalance in power between U.S. citizens and lobbying fossil fuel companies, according to Jones.
“There’s a special issue with climate change,” Jones said. “You have your legislators, your representatives and everybody that [is] supposed to be representing the individuals. The [reality] is you have fossil fuel companies that have lobbies [with] a lot of money, that press them to say, ‘No, no, no, no. Let’s not pass this law because it’s going to diminish our profits.’ The tipping point has to come from when the legislators feel like their livelihood is more in jeopardy from the bottom-up pressure than from the money they’re getting from [companies]. But there’s so much money.”
Because of this, Rajagopal explains that it is difficult for individuals to significantly slow down the effects of climate change. However, she believes that it is still important to take whatever actions are possible to work towards sustainability.
“The thing is on the local level, you can cut your waste and try to be more eco-friendly and stuff like that, but the real polluters are the big businesses,” Rajagopal said. “They need to be regulated. As a consumer, however, you can do your part to support sustainable things. Something my friends and I do is we buy clothes from places we know are sustainable.”
According to Rajagopal, it is much easier for Silicon Valley residents to implement sustainable practices. Because the population is more affluent in general, people have more financial flexibility to replace practices in their lifestyles with more eco-friendly alternatives.
“I know a vegan diet is supposed to be the most eco-friendly and sustainable,” Rajagopal said. “But if you’re on a vegan diet, it’s a lot more expensive. There’s a question about it being ethical, but you also have to consider whether it’s affordable. If you’re in an area that’s more high income and more financially stable, you can actually afford to do those things.”
Sophomore Taralynn Kang believes that Silicon Valley’s affluence allows it to combat climate change more effectively than other areas, and as a result, there are more actions the community can collectively take to fight against climate change. Kang, a member of the Cupertino Youth Climate Action Team, is currently working to implement a compost system at MVHS.
“We have had meetings with the principal and we’re working towards figuring out logistics as to how we can actually achieve this,” Kang said. “Some of the hardships we’re facing right now are how to pay, how to figure out how to get janitors and campus workers and cleaners to be able to sustain this project, because realistically, we are going to graduate, so we can’t keep this going. But the goal is just to make MVHS a greener place, and we figured the best way to start that would be to get a food scrap bin into the food area.”
Another program offered to Silicon Valley residents is the green package offered by PG&E. Jones explains that this program allows the community members to select from options that offer varying amounts of energy from renewable sources. Taking steps to reduce the carbon footprint by reducing the use of fossil fuels is essential to fighting climate change, according to Jones.
With the abundance of resources available in the Silicon Valley, Rajagopal believes that it is crucial for community members, and more specifically the youth, to take the initiative when it comes to climate change.
“We’re the next generation. We’d be the ones engineering the solution,” Rajagopal said. “It’s not something you believe in. It’s a fact. You can say you don’t believe in gravity, but if you jump up, you’re going to come back down. That’s just a fact. You can choose to ignore climate change all you want, but the younger generation has perhaps as much, if not more responsibility — not because we’re younger or smarter or anything, but just because nothing has been done for so long.”
In a similar manner, Jones sees potential in the youth protests in terms of pressing for action against climate change, believing that with enough action and attention, strikes have the ability to enact real change.
“If you have these constant grassroots movements of young people that are making a case for [climate change], constantly putting it out there and being reported on, I think it can create momentum,” Jones said. “If people start to see that, and it becomes more and more of a movement, more and more people jump on board with it. And often times those, if they get big enough, can cause change. Because, ultimately, if the system works correctly and if enough people take action, the representatives should be reflective of those desires. But you know, things take a long time. But the problem is with climate change, you don’t have a lot of time.”
During the Global Climate Strike from Sept. 20 to 27, over 7.6 million people from 185 countries took to the streets to protest the lack of action against climate change, according to the Global Climate Strike website. Meanwhile, on Sept. 23, the United Nations held a Climate Action Summit, during which the U.S. remained silent and 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg delivered a speech. Watch the video below to see how MVHS teachers and students feel about these events.
According to NASA, global sea levels rose eight inches in the last century, the temperature has increased 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit and Antarctic ice is melting three times faster than 10 years ago. Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that the earth is warming, and climate change is a serious problem. Around the world, the conversation regarding the change in temperature has become increasingly heated, leading some activists to push for proactive solutions.
A Carbon Tax
One of these solutions is from the Chapter Head of the Citizen’s Climate Change Lobby (CCL), Tim Dec. He is lobbying Congress for a tax on carbon emissions to incentivize businesses to follow cleaner energy processes.
“Our mission is to create the political will for climate solutions, and our preferred solution is a national policy on carbon emissions, so a carbon tax,” Dec said.
The carbon tax that CCL is proposing would tax fossil fuels based on the amount of carbon dioxide that they emit when they are burned. They are currently suggesting an initial price of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide on businesses. This tax money would then be returned to citizens in the form of a monthly dividend. If the initial price of $15 is passed, this would amount to $50 per household monthly, according to Dec. The tax would then be raised by $10 every year to ease the transition off of fossil fuels.
“We are fixing what we call a market distortion by putting a price on the negative effect that burning fossil fuels has on the economy, [and] that fixes the market,” Dec said. “It’s a market-based solution.”
While Dec’s solution is a national policy change, MVHS sophomore Parmi Shah pushes for individual change, altering her own lifestyle to reduce her overall carbon footprint. She explains where her passion began, and when she felt the need to make a difference.
“In [physical education] one day, we had to see [a presentation about] animal abuse and the [poultry] industry,” Shah said. “And so I [started] watching my own videos, doing my research and then I [went] basically on and off vegan for a year. And then during the summer I completely went vegan.”
Part of the reason Shah believes so strongly about the environment is her childhood.
“I was always about the environment ever since I was a kid, maybe because I was surrounded by nature a lot, especially when I traveled,” Shah said. “I was just very adamant about the environment and wanted to help.”
Shah also makes an effort to convince other people to make a difference by reducing their carbon footprint.
“Most of my friends, whenever I bring up the topic, they’ll be like, ‘Oh my god, here she goes,’ but I think that most people realize that what vegans are doing is right — [most people are] just in denial,” Shah said.
According to the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems, meat products contribute to 47.6% of carbon emissions in the average American household.
“People don’t realize that actually, that meat product is a result of you, that it’s a result of the consumers,” Shah said. “The consumers were the ones who were like, ‘Hey! I’m going to buy this.’ And that’s why that business is producing more and more cows … So if you think you not changing your diet is going to have an impact … It really does matter, whatever [you] do to the planet.”.
Shah strongly believes in the idea that every person has a role in alleviating the negative impacts of climate change by reducing their carbon footprint. However, she feels that while many other students talk about making a change, their words are not followed by action.
“I think it makes you feel better about yourself,” Shah said. “Because you think you’re actually having an impact on the planet. People always preach it on Instagram … But when you’re actually doing something, you realize you’re not just advocating for [it], but you’re actually helping in a way.”
Around MVHS, other organizations are also fighting to make an impact. Senior Sanika Gupta from the Environmental Science Club is part of a project to reduce the school’s emissions by replacing plastics around campus.
“We’re having sustainable fundraisers,” Gupta said. “There is boba all around campus — people sell it all the time. So we are going to be selling reusable straws, like rubber straws or metal straws, to counteract the plastic because breaking down the plastic is what increases emissions.”
Additionally, Environmental Science club worked with a biotechnological organization to transform unrecyclable plastics into sustainable materials. Check out the story here.
Other solutions are based on research, such as sophomore Sivagami Kenyan’s science fair project. She built a machine that absorbs carbon dioxide and stores it in the form of calcium hydroxide.
The format for such machines is called an apparatus, a long tube letting carbon dioxide in one side, and containing calcium hydroxide on the other. The calcium hydroxide absorbs the carbon dioxide, removing it from the air. Ultimately, her project provides information about how to effectively absorb carbon from the atmosphere, helping the planet cool down. While completing the project, she says she learned a lot about climate change.
“The actual issue is much closer than we think,” Kenyan said. “Maybe in centuries, they’ll start thinking about [what] to do. But we should start now.”
Recent California Institute of Technology graduate Magnus Haw believes fiscal movements are a necessary step to a concrete climate change action plan. He led an initiative to remove fossil fuel companies from CalTech’s investment portfolio. Haw discusses how universities like MIT, Stanford and CalTech own endowment funds, or collections of money from their donors, that are invested in businesses to fund the university. Haw’s goal was to move their investments from fossil fuel companies to other sectors, showing businesses that their carbon practices matter.
“We need to show that these companies are directly impacting our future, [and that] we as a university think that that is bad,” Haw said. “We understand that there’s a problem and don’t want to invest in something that is harming our future.”
Haw received signatures of support from 25% of the students at Caltech in a short period. He also pitched the idea to the school administration and found that many schools were already divesting from fossil fuel-based businesses.
“A lot of companies that are in the top 200 fossil fuel companies are coal companies and their stock price is tanking like no other,” Haw said. “But they’re in lots of different portfolios still. And so if you take out those top 200, you will actually lose less money.”
Furthermore, he found that the administration was trying not to express their divestment explicitly. Haw believes this was because directly stating their divestment would reduce donations from specific businesses.
“The fallout from all this campaigning was that we found out that the university was divesting already, but they refused to tell anybody about it because that would be bad press for a couple of companies that still donate to CalTech,” Haw said.
Haw found this disappointing, and contrasted CalTech to MIT, stating that MIT is active and militant when sharing that they are also divesting from fossil fuel-based businesses.
“I was surprised that the university was so enmeshed in corporate donations,” Haw said. ”That was the big wake up call for me, that private universities are not at all independent. Research that’s funded by companies is also suspect, even if it’s at a university because they’ll take away the funding if they don’t get the answer they like.”
Many adult activists, like Dec and Haw, agree that change has to be made, and it requires youth involvement, as the issue will affect people 10 - 20 years in the future.
“[In 10 years], my belief is that we will be down the road towards climate action,” Dec said. “I think we’re going to be in a place where we’re both going to see a lot more motivation and action and real policy in place, but we’re also going to see a lot more of the impacts.”
Dec says he trusts that youth like students at MVHS will take the initiative and call for action on these solutions to climate change.
“[The] sunrise movement is done, and the extinction rebellion and all these youth movements, which honestly gives all of us older people [hope], it really inspires us so much more, because that’s who we’re really working for,” Dec said.