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Act Locally: High school students keep on eye on the climate

Ashland High School science teacher Jim Hartman arranged for students from his Climate Change course to offer their thoughts to a packed room at the Bellview Grange on Jan. 13. This was the third in a series of monthly student presentations.

Since the course’s last public gathering (bit.ly/2HRzSXw), a significant global conference on climate change, COP24, was held in Katowice, Poland. Not surprisingly, this event was the topic of two of the students’ discussions.

Orion Glover offered a comprehensive overview of the conference’s issues and conclusions — most importantly, that, despite serious wavering by the Trump administration, COP24 provided momentum for participants of the 2015 Paris agreement, including several environmentally committed states, to continue working to reverse greenhouse gas emissions.

Claire Glassford spoke about autistic Swedish teenager, Greta Thunberg, who had openly chided adult participants at COP24 for not taking stronger measures to prevent climate change. Because of her courageous tone, Thunberg has emerged as the conference’s heroic figure, especially for high school age environmentalists (see Greta’s full speech at COP24, www.youtube.com/watch?v=VbDnPj0G0wY). An audience member commented that Thunberg’s paternal ancestor, Svante Arrhenius, received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his research linking carbon emissions (from the Industrial Revolution) to the “greenhouse effect” (i.e. a rise in earth’s temperature).

Freshman Angel Padilla entertained the audience with several Spanish love songs. Guest speaker Alli French discussed a number of exciting educational programs being offered at Talent Maker City (www.talentmakercity.org/our-team), Student Hailey Carroll reminded the audience that happiness is an arbitrary state of mind — that the key to our happiness is for us to decide to be grateful for what we have, rather than striving for that which is unobtainable.

Most relevant for Act Locally readers was Grace Schroeder’s talk on how to reduce emissions from consumption. Using data derived from Ashland’s Climate and Energy Action Plan, Grace offered a number of solutions Ashlanders can take to reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Among her suggestions were:

Purchasing local products (to avoid emission costs added in through transportation),

Being conscious of how food and solid waste are disposed,

Switching to an electric vehicle, and

Buying second-hand clothing and household items.

As the students offered their presentations, slides of charts culled from pages of the Climate and Energy Action Plan were being projected behind the speakers. I was curious to learn more about the data included in these charts. I contacted Stu Green, Ashland’s Climate and Energy Analyst.

Among the projected images was a pie chart entitled Summary of Ashland’s 2015 Community GHG Emissions. Stu explained that the climate committee had created this by gathering some hard data from residents’ municipal water and electricity bills, as well as natural gas usage from our Avista Utilities bills, then estimating amounts of other types of emission-generating actions, like on-road travel, residents’ purchase of food and household items, etc. Both the concrete and the estimated figures were subsequently plugged into a protocol for calculating a municipality’s GHG emissions, as established by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) (see icleiusa.org or, more specifically, icleiusa.org/ghg-protocols). The pie chart projected behind the student speakers reflected percentages based upon these calculations.

I felt my inner Greta Thunberg cringing. Which was more troubling — the city obtaining data from personal financial statements, or using numerical guesses to create official documents?

To its credit, the climate committee had acknowledged the problem. Questioning some of their models, another chart was included in the 2015 report, that estimated the amount of “uncertainty” in the report’s figures, along with a statement: “There is some degree of uncertainty in any GHG inventory. This uncertainty can come from incomplete data or uncertainty in translating units of activity into emissions.” (The “uncertainty” chart was also one of the slides projected behind the student speakers at Bellview Grange.)

My inner Greta also found another element of the Climate Plan problematic. In brief, the commission was mandated to calculate emissions for activities only within Ashland’s official city limits. However, commercial trucks running along I-5 and agricultural businesses, both of which produce significant GHG emissions, operate just outside city boundaries. If these additional types of emissions had been included, the report’s percentages would read very differently.

The action I will be taking is to work with Stu Green to unpack relevant and reliable information contained within the report for future installments of this column.

In the meantime, readers can Act Locally by checking out the 128-page CEAP Plan (bit.ly/coaceap), or a much shorter background report (bit.ly/2HLFpi3).

And, of course, Ashlanders are encouraged to support our impressive high school environmentalists at their next public presentation, which will occur on March 10. Check ashlandccs.org for information.

Ashland resident, author and anthropologist Nina Egert has been a lay environmentalist since the early 1970s.

Ashland High School Climate Change Solutions class member Grace Schroeder speaks at the class’s Jan. 13 presentation at the Bellview Grange. Photo by Nina Egert