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    July 24, 2019 | 8:02 AM

    High School Problems: Add Climate Change to the List

    It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when 74 medical groups declare the climate crisis a “health emergency.” And the UN proclaims that one million species face extinction. And when major European and American heat waves read like warnings to so many of us in a warming world. 

    But when trouble strikes, superheroes rise to the occasion. In this case, our heroes are young and making their voices heard.

    Gaby Cohen, a senior at Marlborough High School in Los Angeles, California, is out there on the frontlines of perhaps the most important fight of her generation. And by helping her school commit to 100 percent renewable electricity, she’s already winning.

    Gaby’s interest in environmental causes began with her participation in an environmental club at school. She describes the club as an informal way for people to offer ideas and become more knowledgeable and involved with the cause. She recalls the inspiring then-seniors in the club, who “opened the world up to all of these environmental issues that I didn’t know about.”

    Gaby’s education cultivated her activism. In her oceanography class, she watched documentaries highlighting mass coral bleaching events, sea level rise, and glacial melt. With her interest sparked and a light nudge from her mother, she applied to attend a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training.

    Inspiring a Community to Act

    For Gaby, learning about the climate crisis and its solutions from former US Vice President Al Gore and industry leading professionals in science, communications, and environmental justice was “an incredible experience.” 

    And at just 16, Gaby left the event already aware that she needed to think long-term.

    Back home in Los Angeles, she began her journey as a Climate Reality Leader, equipped with the “different resources and knowledge about ways that you can take steps” to make a difference. Gaby’s focus turned to making change at the place she knew best – her very own high school.

    Lisa Ellis, a biology teacher and chair of the Science Department and the Marlborough Campus Environmental Committee, explained that prior to the start of Gaby’s work, Marlborough School didn’t even recycle paper. But with help from her peers and teachers, Gaby’s work to improve her school’s environmental policies began to take off.

    Recycling quickly became the norm, and composting began to gain traction on campus. It took some time, but Gaby and others helped the school move away from and ultimately stop selling bottled water in the cafeteria. Each success motivated the team to think even bigger.

    Gaby credits the success of her efforts to the leadership skills and knowledge she gained by attending a Climate Reality Leadership Corps training – skills that built on her already strong determination and grit. She also recognizes the importance of the support from teachers like Ms. Ellis and Ms. Garrison-Ross, who created space for her voice among the administrative powerhouses making the decisions.

    After all, even the most outspoken environmental advocates need allies. And Gaby found another very important one in Dr. Priscilla Sands, head of Marlborough School, who says she believes that no matter what, students “need the opportunity to really lead and feel supported rather than this being a top-down initiative.”

    After a six-month-long process to kick-start change, Gaby and her peers emerged with a major triumph. In June 2019, Marlborough School joined Climate Reality’s 100% Committed campaign, pledging to shift to 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

    Gaby’s hard work has inspired her school community. By driving conversations around the climate crisis and clean energy, her friends and peers became engaged. They started a campus environmental committee, allowing students to represent their grades and talk about the climate crisis with teachers, staff, and parents. She also spearheaded an electronics waste drive. Meanwhile, other students plan on growing healthy, nutritious food at a local garden on campus.

    Chapters in Action

    The Climate Reality Project: Los Angeles Area, CA Chapter Chair Michael Zelniker played a large role in supporting the school’s commitment. Zelniker maintains that as awareness of the climate crisis and support for local climate action grows, the chapter is beginning to build a coalition with more students, schools, and parent-teacher organizations.

     “The city of Los Angeles has a very ambitious plan around 100 percent clean, renewable energy,” he explained.

    And for Gaby, the work to uphold the commitment to 100 percent clean electricity is ongoing. Environmental initiatives can sometimes fall by the wayside as the seniors who initiated them graduate. But Gaby is intent on seeing her work followed through post-graduation by focusing on ways to institutionalize her plans.

    Gaby, though ultimately optimistic, admits that like many other young people, she’s “really scared” for the future, saying, “It’s really necessary for more and more organizations to step up.”

    One thing is certain for Gaby: No matter where her future takes her, she intends to keep fighting for a better tomorrow.

    “Whatever career path I end up with, I will continue to be an advocate for the environment,” she said. “It’s something that’s really important to me, and I think that there aren’t enough advocates.”

    Taking the Next Step

    In Gaby’s words, “One of the things that I really love about Climate Reality is that they have this network afterwards that you’re supposed to keep involved and commit these Acts of Leadership in various different areas.”

    As we continue our fight against the climate crisis, it’s important to keep a positive attitude and work with a network to generate meaningful climate action. Seeking opportunities to create change and help schools lead sustainably is necessary for a brighter future.

    Join Us and Take Climate Action

    On November 20–21, the world will be talking about the climate crisis as part of 24 Hour of Reality: Truth In Action.

    For one full day, Climate Reality Leader volunteers trained by former Vice President Al Gore will hold public presentations and conversations on our changing climate in schools, community centers, workplaces, and more across all 50 US states and countries worldwide.

    It’s a chance for friends, neighbors, and colleagues to hear the truth of what’s happening to our planet. A chance to learn how we’ll overcome this existential threat together. A chance to turn truth into real action and bold solutions. Now, while we still have time.

    There are many ways to get involved, from hosting a free presentation to joining a Truth in Action event in your community. Click here to learn how you can be part of this historic event on November 20–21.

    Before You Go

    At Climate Reality, we work hard to create high-quality educational content like blogs, e-books, videos, and more to empower people all over the world to fight for climate solutions and stand together to drive the change we need. We are a nonprofit organization that believes there is hope in unity, and that together, we can build a safe, sustainable future.

    But we can't do it without your help.

    If you enjoyed what you’ve just read and would like to see more, please consider making a generous gift to support our ongoing work to fight climate denial and support solutions.

    The Climate Reality Project