YOUNG ORGANIZERS FOR A CLEAN ENERGY FUTURE

IT’S EARLY MAY. The crocuses are blooming, and the daffodils can’t be far behind. Out in Pleasant Bay, gray seals are returning in large numbers—I can see them from my window—and yesterday the first bluebird of the season came to our feeder.

I’m well into the Sunday paper when the telephone rings. Tom sounds excited, and the background voices tell me that he’s not alone.

“Gramps!” Tom launches in. “Paul is here with me, and José too. You remember José from our solar project, right?”

With my yes, he continues. “Paul and I told José about our trip to Martha’s Vineyard, and what’s happening with Vineyard Wind. Like Erik and Ben explained, how they need customers so they can borrow money from banks to build their wind turbines?”

He pauses but not for too long. “So … we know some other kids in our school who would be interested in helping get clean energy for Massachusetts. We want to talk with them about starting a clean energy club, so we can learn more about that Community Empowerment Act the state legislature is considering. Do you think it’s a good idea?”

I think that organizing young people in support of clean energy is a great idea, and say so. “You guys should check online to see if there are any other groups like that in the Boston area,” I suggest. “It would be cool to work with other kids—and the more people you have on board, the more likely it is that legislators will pay attention.”

“I think forming a clean energy club is a great idea.”

Tom agrees. After reminding me that the stripers will be arriving in the Bay soon, he signs off.

The next weekend, I get a text from Tom on my phone. He’s just inherited his mother’s old smart phone and loves to try out its features. His message reads, “Exciting news about clean energy club idea. Skype with us tomorrow?” I respond, and we set up a time.

Just after lunch the next day, we’re waving at one another on our computer screens. I can see Paul and José behind Tom.

“We did what you suggested, Gramps,” Tom begins. “When we googled clean energy clubs for youth in Boston, the only thing we found is an amazing video about a young woman named Eshe Sherley, who lives in the city. She talks about climate change and the effects it’s having now and will have on Boston. I’m messaging you the web address because I want you to hear what she has to say.”

My phone pings, and a web address pops up for a Vimeo film.

 
A Young Advocate for the Climate

In the Skype window, José and Paul are grinning madly, and José says, “Let us talk to him! We want to tell him the next part of the story.”

Tom moves to one side so José can see me. “So, Eshe is really cool,” José begins, “but she’s a part of a much bigger deal. She and a bunch of other kids are actually suing the government for not protecting the climate, because without a healthy climate, us young people won’t have a good future.”

“Really?” I’m amazed that I haven’t heard about this lawsuit. “So how did you find out about this?”

Paul’s face appears. “At the end of Eshe’s video, it mentions a couple of organizations, called iMatter and Our Children’s Trust. We went to the website for Our Children’s Trust, and there it was—all the information about the lawsuit.”

José jumps in again. “Twenty-one kids have filed the suit. They’re being helped by lawyers at Our
Children’s Trust. All those kids have done amazing things individually about climate change and clean energy. The videos on the website tell about some of the cool things they’re doing or have already done.”

Tom comes back on. “You need to go to that website and check out the videos, Gramps,” he says. “That’s where we learned about iMatter.”

He goes on to describe this youth advocacy organization. It was founded by Alec Loorz, who became active on climate issues when he was just twelve years old and is now part of the lawsuit.

“We’re thinking about starting an iMatter group here in Boston to learn more about the Act for Community Empowerment,” Tom concludes, “and maybe work to get the law passed.”

I smile back at the three excited faces on the screen, and agree to take a look at the Our Children’s Trust website. “Check out iMatter too,” Tom urges. “We’re thinking about contacting them.”

After we disconnect, I go straight to the Our Children’s Trust site and click on a tab that says Short Films. First I watch the video about Eshe Sherley. She tells a very inspiring story about how she discovered the climate crisis through learning about local food choices. She realized how much pollution results from transporting foods over long distances, and she learned that over 25 percent of greenhouse gases are produced by transportation in general.

Next I choose the video about Alec Loorz. I can see why the boys are so excited. Although he’s still a teen, Alec has already had a powerful impact on the sustainability movement.

 
Alec Loorz, Earth Guardian

To learn more about iMatter, the organization he founded, I go to that website. It shows me that the iMatterNow campaign is designed to carefully walk teams of youth through the process of assessing how well their cities are doing in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Their goal is to reduce emissions to zero by the year 2040.

The teams grade each city on progress to date, using a Youth Climate Report Card. Then the youth team presents a report to its city council explaining the grade (from A through F), and asks for a resolution that commits the city to “creating a Climate Action Plan that lowers emissions to levels that ensure a healthy future for its youngest citizens and every generation to follow.” With that action plan in place, young people can organize to help implement the plan.

iMatter helps young climate activists get organized for action.

 
This does seem like an organization that could support Tom and his friends in working to increase clean energy production in Massachusetts and off the coast. Would they need to do a climate report card for all of Boston? Or could they go straight into advocating for the Act for Community Empowerment, working with Ben and other young people on Martha’s Vineyard? This isn’t clear from the iMatter Youth website.

I promised the boys that I’d get back to them, so a few days later I give Tom a call.

“What did you think of Our Children’s Trust and iMatter Youth?” is his first question.

“I’m extremely impressed. Young people filing a lawsuit against the government for allowing destruction of the atmosphere is a brilliant idea. And iMatter Youth seems to have found a good way of helping young people organize to change energy policies and procedures on the city level.”

iMatter Youth helps young people organize for change.

“But we don’t feel ready to do a report card on the whole city of Boston,” Tom says. “Do you think iMatter Youth would let us work with them, if it’s mainly helping Ben and those guys on Martha’s Vineyard get that law passed in Massachusetts?”

“Why don’t you contact someone there and find out? I see both a phone number and an e-mail address on their website. Tell them about your idea for a group project and ask for advice on what to do next.”

“What if they just say we have to follow the plan they have set up, with the climate report card and everything?”

“Well, then you can form your own group and start talking with your state representatives about the Community Empowerment Act. I’m happy to help out if you want.”

“Thanks, Gramps! We’ll try to reach someone at iMatter Youth and get back to you.”
 
I DON’T HEAR ANYTHING FROM Tom, Paul, and José for several weeks. This doesn’t surprise me because school is ending for the summer, and I know they have final exams pretty soon.

But meanwhile, this message comes through from Julie: Gramps, we have GOT to talk. Please call soon! The Memorial Day weekend is around the corner, and her whole family will be coming to visit for a couple of days, so we agree to talk then.

“We’re bringing Amaya and Natasha with us, Gramps,” Julie reminds me. “Can the three of us stay in your cottage?” Of course I say yes.

My Boston visitors arrive just before lunch on Saturday. While the girls settle into the cottage, Tom unpacks his stuff up in the loft. He and his father are taking the boat to go fishing after a quick bite. We gather in the kitchen to make sandwiches, then move out on the deck into the spring sunshine.

“So, Julie, you sent me a mysterious message the other day. What’s on your mind?” I ask.

Julie glances at her brother, who has already wolfed down his PB and J and is stringing his fly rod. “Well, you know how Tom and José and Paul have been looking for ways to get organized around that clean energy law we should have, right?”

I nod and she continues. “So, me and Amaya and Natasha want to do something about global warming, too.” Julie looks at her friends, who smile with anticipation.

“Amaya and Natasha and I want to do something about global warming, too.”

By now Tom and his dad are disappearing down the path toward the beach. Natasha picks up the story. “We did Internet searches for youth and global warming, and lots of things came up. Some of it was stuff that Tom and those guys found, like iMatter and Our Children’s Trust. But we found some new things too, and that’s what we want to talk to you about.”

Julie jumps to her feet. “Gramps, we need to show you. Can we get on your computer?” They scamper into my study, where Julie slides behind the desktop, flanked by the others.

“Start with Young Voices,” Amaya suggests. Julie goes to the website for a group called Young Voices for the Planet, where she clicks the Our Films button.

“See, Gramps,” she points with the cursor. “They’ve made all these short films about kids who are helping their communities find ways to stop using so much fossil fuel, and switch to clean energy. Look …”

She scrolls down. “The first one is about that kid Alec Loorz, who’s suing the government for not stopping the CO2 pollution.”

I lean over Julie’s shoulder to get a good look. The website says that their films are designed to give young people a voice, so that others will be inspired and empowered by what they’ve accomplished. As Julie scrolls down the page, I see film titles about the marine environment, Girl Scouts and energy efficiency, green ambassadors, water sampling in Siberia, planting trees for the planet, energy audits, birds, and locally grown food.

Young Voices for the Planet

 
Amaya is impatient. “Show him the Save Tomorrow film!” she pleads.

Julie clicks on it. By the end of the seven-minute documentary, all the girls are wriggling excitedly and talking over each other.

“See?” Julie shouts. “Girls just like us are showing the grown-ups in their town that really important things can be done right there to help stop global warming!”

Amaya: “And they’re right here in Massachusetts, not very far from where we live!”

I am really impressed, and I say so. “Those kids are doing amazing things, and they’re convincing the adults around them to help make changes that are good for the planet. I can see why you’re excited.”

 
Save Tomorrow is a film about young climate organizers in our own state of Massachusetts.

“But wait,” says Natasha. “That’s not all. Move over, Julie, and let me show him the Global Warming Express website.” She slides into the chair in front of the keyboard and enters the web address.

Pushing the chair back from the table, she continues. “Okay, so here’s the story. Out in Santa Fe, New Mexico, these two nine-year-old girls—Marina Weber and Joanna Whysner—learned about global warming and endangered species in third grade. They got worried about animals like polar bears that were threatened by the warming climate. So they wrote a book about it for President Obama. This was a couple years ago.”

Amaya picks up the story. “In the book, there’s a magic train called the Global Warming Express. It travels down from the Arctic through California and around the Gulf of Mexico. When it gets to Washington, D.C., the animals on board, plus Marina and Joanna, get to talk with the President about the dangers of global warming.”

The Global Warming Express

 
Julie cuts in. “The endangered animals are really cool. There’s a penguin named The Fluff and a harp seal called Creamy. My favorite is Flora, the polar bear. And there’s a carrier pigeon named Croissant, who can’t talk but carries important messages.”

Natasha resumes: “So anyway, the girls and their parents decided to start an after-school program using the title of the book—Global Warming Express. It spread to other schools, and one of the GWE groups decided to see if they could put solar panels on the roof of their school. But people from the solar company they talked to explained that the school’s roof wasn’t designed to hold the weight of so many solar panels.

“So instead, they worked with the school district to create a solar shade structure for the playground. The kids can get out of the hot sun, and the school gets power from the solar panels. It took them two years to get it designed and built. Look, here’s a picture.”

“Get it, Gramps, get it?” Julie skips away from the table and back. “It’s a solar canopy! Just like we saw on Samsø and on Martha’s Vineyard.”

She pauses for effect, then makes her big announcement. “We want to form a Global Warming Express group in our school and learn more about solar canopies. Check out this video next.”

Natasha makes a point of never looking excited, even when she feels that way. “Here’s what we’re thinking,” she says very seriously. “All over Boston, and even in smaller cities and towns, there are huge parking lots. In the daytime, especially in the summer, the sun just beats down on all that asphalt and makes it hot. So why not cover those places with solar panels? Cars could stay cool and dry underneath them, and the panels would be making clean electricity at the same time.”

Proposed solar canopy at the Acequila Madre School in Santa Fe, New Mexico

 
“And if you have an electric car, you can plug in and get your battery charged while you shop!” Amaya adds.

“We know that there are some big questions to answer,” Julie acknowledges. “Like how much would each canopy cost and who would pay to set them up? But our club could find out and give that information to people who own the parking lots—like city officials and store owners.”

She pauses, and the girls wait eagerly to see what I think.

“I think you have a fabulous idea! There are parking lots everywhere, and people like to have their cars under cover when they park. Cooling down the cars will also mean they need less air conditioning, which saves energy. Sooo . . . what’s your next step?”

 
The Global Warming Express Video

“We’re thinking about writing to the people at Global Warming Express to find out about setting up a program at our school,” Julie explains, sweeping her hair out of her face.

“Then next fall, we’d meet after school and do research to answer those questions we just talked about. Maybe we’d invite some city officials and people from solar panel companies to talk with us.”

“Great! Go for it! I bet Marina and Joanna will be really glad to hear from you. I’d love to park under one of those solar canopies you’re talking about, like we saw on Martha’s Vineyard.

“Also my Prius hybrid is getting old, and I plan to replace it with an electric car. And when I do, then I’ll shop at places where I can plug it in. So solar canopies can generate electricity and be good for business at the same time!”

“Just what we were thinking!”

Julie and her friends high-five each other, then troop out of my study and head outdoors. As the door closes behind them, I hear Amaya say, “Let’s write to Marina today and see what she says.”

And Natasha: “Maybe we could even start learning more about solar canopies this summer.”

Solar Canopies

Electric cars can be charged directly from these solar panels.

Solar Canopies

Shade provided by the solar canopy keeps cars cool.

Solar Canopies

Whole parking lots can be covered with solar canopies.

Solar Canopies

The stores around parking lots can get their electricity from solar canopies.

IT’S MIDAFTERNOON BY NOW. Tom and Monny have been gone for a couple of hours. They need to get back into our cove before low tide, so I wander down the path to the beach to see if they’ve caught any fish. First I see Monny’s boat on the mooring, swinging slowly in the light breeze, then the little dinghy, riding low as my son and grandson row toward shore.

Tom hops out first, carrying the rods and smiling broadly.

“Any luck?” I inquire.

“Oh, yah.” He pulls the dinghy farther up on the beach. “We found a school of bass over by the cut, right where the channel goes into Ryder’s Cove. They weren’t big enough to be keepers, but they stayed around for almost an hour, and we caught a bunch of them.”

“Tom caught six,” says Monny, as we walk up the hill toward the house. “There was a lot of bait around, and the fish were really hungry. It was a great way to start off the season. What have you and the girls been doing?”

I smile at the memory of their enthusiasm and focus. “Oh, we’ve been talking about solar canopies and this organization called the Global Warming Express, which helps organize kids who want to take action against climate change.“

“Do you like their idea of starting an after-school group?” Monny asks.

“I do, and I offered to help if they need it. By the way, Tom, did you ask iMatter Youth about joining them without having your team needing to do a whole Climate Report Card on Boston?”

iMatter Youth
Members of the iMatter Youth Council

 
“Yup, we did talk to someone there,” he replies. “They said we could join this thing called the iMatter Youth Climate Council, which helps out with local and national campaigns in different ways. So we applied to join that council.”

“Excellent! And since you’re going to look for ways to get new laws passed in Massachusetts, maybe you could help other youth teams figure out how to change laws where they live, too.”

“That’s what we’re thinking.” He nods. “Ben from Martha’s Vineyard is part of our team, and he’s really psyched about talking to our state representatives. That way we can be in touch with more legislators than just ours from home.”

Tom and Monny head for the outdoor shower to wash down their fishing gear, while I head to the kitchen to make a fresh cup of coffee.
 
AS THE WATER COMES TO A BOIL, I think about how much has happened since Tom Julie, and I first set out last summer to learn about our living Earth. About how the Earth’s organs—the atmosphere, the oceans, and the Earth’s crust—work together to create a climate that supports life. We spent that summer learning about the natural cycles that take carbon out of the atmosphere, provide the oxygen we breathe, and nourish the land with fresh water drawn from the oceans.

I remember how worried Julie and Tom were when they realized that we humans burning fossil fuels are overloading the atmosphere with greenhouse gases, causing heat waves, flooding, rising seas, and forest fires.

But the way they responded was inspiring. Last fall, they teamed up with friends to find clean ways to make electricity and to heat houses and other buildings. Tom and his friends became solar-energy experts, while Julie, Amaya, and Natasha learned all about water power. Together, we explored wind power.

I recall our visit to Samsø Island in Denmark, where wind machines combined with solar panels and biofuels have freed people completely from oil and gas. Outside the window, my wind turbine spins in the southwest breeze, and I think about the kids’ ideas for bringing much bigger wind machines to the ocean off our own shores.

Now these enthusiastic, committed young people are ready to share what they’ve learned about clean energy, and push for real changes in their communities.

Mug in hand, I head back down to the beach. Easing out of my sandals to wiggle my feet into the warming sand, I feel a sense of hope rising like the incoming tide. I’m convinced that if enough young people like my grandchildren learn to work with the living Earth, helping to restore its natural balance, there’s a good chance their grandchildren will be able to live comfortably and in harmony with a healthy planet.

Tom, Julie, and their friends understand that the sun, wind, and water can provide more than enough energy to meet all our needs. Their next task is to find ways to convince us older folks to leave our dirty-energy habits behind, and join them in building a clean energy future.