Students Lead the Way on Climate Change

In recognition of Asthma Awareness month, we recently had the pleasure of visiting Dr. Phillips High School in Orlando where we were greeted by a group of incredibly knowledgeable and passionate students enthusiastic about environmental issues. Our discussion ranged from upcoming legislation and the role of EPA in improving air and water quality to pollution and how we can live healthier, cleaner lives, especially with growing threats from climate change.

The juniors and seniors at Dr. Phillips high school explained to us how they were learning to reduce pollution and environmental health concerns such as asthma.  These kids are doing great work, but Orlando, is not the only place where these students can be found. College Board Statistics showed that at least 118,000 students were enrolled in AP Environmental Science (APES) classes across the country in 2013, which is 10,000 more students than the year before. Interest in the environment is growing among this demographic at an amazing rate.

Even elementary school students are enthusiastically embracing concepts such as saving energy, keeping our water clean and the 3 R’s – reduce, reuse, recycle.  Student initiative is often the driving force behind individual schools taking important actions to increase energy efficiency and protect our environment, including achieving Green Ribbon status.  Since its inception in April 2011, the Green Ribbon program, which is a joint venture of the EPA, Department of Education and White House Council on Environmental Quality, has recognized many learning institutions as Green Ribbon Schools. Many more are on track to receive this distinguished recognition in the near future. Students have the passion, energy and drive to improve the planet and reduce their carbon footprint; many of them are also highly skilled at using social media to spread their enthusiasm.

President Obama understands the importance of reducing our carbon footprint for future generations.  In the Climate Action Plan he lays out commonsense steps to cut carbon pollution from power plants and ultimately build climate resilience. It directs EPA to take commonsense steps to curb the harmful carbon pollution that fuels climate change from our biggest source—power plants. EPA is on track to propose those standards next month. If we can begin to reduce this pollution, all Americans will benefit.

Later this year, the winners of the President’s Environmental Youth Award and the Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators will be announced. These programs honor and encourage commitment to environmental education and stewardship.  It is important that educators,  communities, and parents across the country also recognize the interest and energetic enthusiasm that young people have in this area and provide venues where they not only can learn about the state of the Earth, but also take action to make a positive difference.

About the authors:

Gina McCarthy is the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Deb Wayslik has taught environmentally oriented classes at Dr. Phillips High School for 13 years. Her classes incorporate hands-on activities, challenging laboratories and other innovative teaching methods. She is the 2012 recipient of the NEEF Bartlett Award and the 2012 EPA Presidential Innovation Award for Environmental Educators. In addition, she has been recognized as one of the top teachers in the U.S. by several prominent organizations for her efforts, including the Christopher Columbus Life Science Educator Award.

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