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Ashland High students take up ‘Youth Challenge’

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Jim Hartman’s Climate Solution course at Ashland High School was a main force in the city’s creation of its Climate and Energy Action Plan (CEAP) two years ago — and Sunday it kicked off its “Youth Challenge” with Hartman announcing that climate has become such an emergency that “it’s too late for solar panels and electric cars. We need deep political engagement.”

Before a crowd of 30 at the new Thalden Pavilion, student Annika Larson, who is too young to vote, dropped all pretense of neutrality and named candidates for governor, Congress, Jackson County Commission and state Senate who, according to their own words and votes, were strong on climate action.

Hartman, a teacher here for 24 years, told the crowd that the purpose of CEAP was to get it evaluated after three years, determine how much it cut carbon output, then have it stand as the model for other cities to adopt, in order to “avoid the worst effects of climate change.” That evaluation will come next year.

Hartman and his students now are helping the town adapt by bracing for smoke, including improving forest management, increased flooding and “reducing the risk of our town burning down.” But the main job, he said, is to enact rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in our all aspects of our society.”

Specifically, he added, that means acting this year to cut warming by 1.5 degrees Centigrade by leaving 80 percent of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. To this end, he says, the state needs to enact cap-and-trade legislation, stop the Jordan Cove natural gas pipeline and get the federal government to stop denying climate change.

Hartman said this isn’t just a school project, but a real-world action where he and students “create a movement not where students are doing too much, getting stressed out and run away screaming.”

To support this, Hartman is training his students in mindfulness, which is focusing the mind on what is, being more aware and communicating better with people, to help attract others to the cause.

Larson, 17, said teenage voters must be motivated to cast ballots — adding that the gas pipeline, if built, will add greatly to greenhouse gases and cost Oregon its role as a climate leader.

“The argument is that it will increase jobs, but those are temporary and what it will really increase is the temperature. We do try to keep this nonpartisan, but Congressman Greg Walden has voted party line for the Keystone pipeline and against the Stream Protection Act, while his opponent, Jamie McLeod-Skinner has stood for the opposite,” Larson said.

She spoke up for other Democrats, noting Gov. Kate Brown has done a lot for the environment while her opponent Knute Buehler “gets a lifetime grade of F on the environment, which is really bad.”

Alison Lerch, Fire Adapted Communities Coordinator for Ashland Fire & Rescue, said the city and county get high marks in the FireWise program, but also are focusing on “the mental part,” not letting long smoke sieges isolate kids and families from each other, “so connect with friends and neighbors when it’s hard to live here,” she suggested — and also install MERV-13 air filters.

The Youth Challenge, in collaboration with Southern Oregon Climate Action Now, are organizing an ongoing series of monthly programs. These programs are designed to engage the community in discussion of critical climate-related issues affecting the region and to support the CEAP.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

Jim Hartman talks about the Climate Change Youth Challenge (video by John Darling)
Jim Hartman leads a session of the Climate Change Youth Challenge on Sunday at the Thalden Pavilion. (Photo by John Darling)