A climate crisis, an international outcry

Thunberg: ‘Change is coming, whether you like it or not’


Atmika Iyer/Talon

Oak Park High School joins the #FridaysforFuture movements with signs and chants at the end of their fourth period.

The worst typhoon Japan has seen in 60 years — Typhoon Hagibis

Power companies in California fearing fire during the Santa Ana winds — blackouts

Hottest month for the world in over a century — July of 2019.

Extreme temperatures. Melting icebergs. Species extinctions.

What can we do?

According to Principal Kevin Buchanan, the Oak Park Unified School District has been “a leader in the environmental schools’ movement.”

“I think we’re ahead of the curve in terms of school districts that care about and actually implement policy that is consistent with what we know about the environment,” Buchanan said.

English teacher David Kinberg believes OPHS has been diligent in their practices regarding sustainability.

“I’ve seen a real focus on recycling, I’ve seen us switch over to reclaimed water for our grounds, the solar panels here, the [utilization of shipping containers as the] i-buildings, which are environmentally friendly and we’ve gone to cooking using local ingredients and trying to offer vegan and vegetarian options and cut down meat in our cafeterias,” Kinberg said.

The US Department of Education website states, schools which “reduce environmental impact and costs, improve the health and wellness of schools, students, and staff and provide effective environmental and sustainability education” are awarded the label of Green Ribbon — which OPHS has earned. 

OPUSD has put in solar panels, which, according to Superintendent Tony Knight, generate 85 percent of its electricity. The district has also implemented electric vehicle chargers, a bioswale which collects runoff and removes pollution and debris and drains into an underground filtration system that heads to a creek. Additionally, the school brought in recycled shipping containers which was converted to the i-buildings. These buildings are also zero-net energy buildings — meaning those buildings produce more energy with their solar panels than they actually use.

In addition, the district has put into practice a battery system which generates electricity at night for the school to use during the day, LED lights in all indoor facilities and the stadium, which are designed so as not to disturb wildlife, energy-saving thermostats and white roofs which reflect light and heat away from buildings to keep them cool without the help of an air conditioning unit.

The food served in all the schools in OPUSD are part of a Plant It Forward” system. The nutrition programs are actively trying to find ways to incorporate more plants into students’ diets over meat due to concerns about carbon footprints, student health and the manner in which those animals were raised. 

All these innovations have allowed for the district to be awarded the label of Green Ribbon. In 2013, the OPUSD district was the first district to be awarded this label in all of California. 

“[Oak Hills Elementary School] became a real model for the environment in the 1990s before a lot of this was on people’s radar. As superintendent, I’ve been able to do more. It’s also been in parallel with things we’ve started to talk about such as climate change. We’ve been able to ramp it up considerably in the district in practice, and also in education,” Knight said.

Knight believes the district should always be asking the following questions: “How can we continue to reduce our carbon footprint? How can we continue to save water, electricity [and] fuel? How can we teach our students more about the environment and learn to care more about it?”

Social Sciences teacher DJ Cook believes OPUSD can improve their sustainable practices by working to eliminate single-use plastic.

“A very simple heavy duty dishwashing system would allow us to use metal forks and metal knives and have those be reusable,” Cook said. “You might have a hard time with students actually putting the silverware in the proper place to have it washed, because they’re teenagers, and they might take it and throw it or bend it, but in the grand scheme of things, single use plastics are going to be way worse than losing a few metal forks every single day.”
At the beginning of the 2019-20 school year, Math teacher Robin Midiri sent out an email to the teachers and district members of OPUSD to create a cross-curricular program that addresses climate change and sustainability.

“When that idea [of a cross-curricular program regarding sustainability and climate change] occurred to me as a person who will possibly be a future grandmother, and just thinking about our future generations and understanding the math side of how finite our resources are, if I could figure out a way to have it have something to do with climate change and and that goal of mine, that would be perfect,” Midiri said.

This group of teachers, administrators and district members are actively trying to find ways to initiate this cross-curricular program.

“Teachers start[ed] to say well, if we focus on one of the UN sustainable development goals and use that as an anchor idea, No. 12: responsible consumption and production, any class in this school can find a way to tie in what they’re teaching to that goal,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jay Greenlinger said. “I think that by starting that common theme that’s outside of the curriculum and tying in everything we’re doing in the classroom to that idea, it makes an entry point for everybody, no matter what you’re teaching.”

Kinberg and Cook are looking to not just incorporate sustainability into their already existing classes, but create new courses devoted to the concept. Kinberg is proposing a class called Environmentalism and Sustainability Literature, and Cook is proposing a class called Geopolitics in the World Today. According to Kinberg, these classes are “a forum of research, study and discussion.” Cook and Kinberg hope to create a connection between both their classes, and students will be “encouraged, not required” to take both classes.

“The design of this class is shaped around an economic approach to transitioning our global economic system ethically and morally to one of sustainability rather than endless consumption that leads to the degradation of the planet,” Cook wrote in a summarization of the class.

One class on campus already has an environment-friendly, sustainability-focused approach: Advanced Placement Environmental Science, taught by Science teacher Anastasia Kokiousis.

“I hope students leave APES understanding the environmental problems that we face and can offer some solutions to those problems. I hope my students absorb the facts given about climate change and actually act on it, so that our society, each person at a time, can work towards a more sustainable future,” Kokiousis said.

While the district is continuing to try and find ways to incorporate sustainability, Greenlinger also hopes to encourage students to “find ways to understand their role in the management of natural resources, and find ways for them to take action in their own lives.”

Simple ways students can practice sustainability are through recycling, only buying products from companies that use sustainable practices, reducing consumption of meat, setting up a compost at home for waste from the kitchen, being mindful of transportation methods by carpooling or buying electric vehicles and reducing consumption of single-use plastic utensils and water bottles.

“Everybody can do their part in helping with climate change even if it’s as little as picking up trash around campus. I’d encourage everybody to start using reusable materials, water bottles … using reusable bags, anything to help not produce so much waste. We can use less water, drive electric cars [and] not support companies that are not environmentally sustainable,” Kokiousis said.

Kokiousis also hopes students will utilize an activism approach to help with sustainability and climate change.

“Some suggestions I have for students at school would be to think about ‘Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,’” Kokiousis said. “A lot of people don’t think about the first “R” of refuse which is saying ‘no’ to things like plastic straws, single-use plastic utensils, plastic bags, buying new clothes all the time or saying no to purchasing items from companies that use unsustainable practices.”

Young people can have a positive impact on the environment.  Consider Greta Thunberg, a Swedish 16-year-old activist for sustainability and action to fight climate change. She has inspired a student walk-out movement called #FridaysForFuture to call attention to the climate crisis and more. 

Thunberg traveled across the Atlantic via a zero-emission yacht, is a vegan and refuses to fly — all to reduce her carbon footprint.

Her efforts were even visible on our own campus.

Cut to a hot Friday on the Oak Park High School campus: students buzzing during nutrition and fourth period, desks cluttered with signs and markers. By 11:40 a.m. on Sept. 20, students, with their individual handcrafted signs at their side, walked out of their classrooms. Some students were accompanied by their teachers, others were not. As they all excitedly made their way to grassy hill in front of the E-Building, they made sure not to cross the line between the hill and the sidewalk. Some students tried to get cars passing by to honk, others began chanting.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho. Climate change has got to go,” was one cry.

“What do we want? Change. When do we want it? Now,” was another.

Taking note of Thunberg’s movement, seniors in APES were encouraged to take action by Kokiousis.

“I’m really passionate about the environment myself, and I encouraged the students if they wanted to engage in the protests, that they should. Sam Barney-Gibbs approached me and asked if it was OK, and I said it’s up to you to do a protest if you would like to do so, and a bunch of students banded together and came out to do the protest,” Kokiousis said.

Buchanan says the administration and district are “[supportive of students’] right to use civil disobedience as a way to protest.”

“We think that when students are passionate about something in their lives, [or] something in their community, that it’s our job [to ensure] that they have a safe and appropriate way of expressing that and we have staff who want to be outspoken about that topic as well,” Greenlinger said.

Some students have turned to the #FridaysForFuture as their way to fight against climate change.

“I’ve always been inspired by other climate change activists like Greta Thunberg, so I just thought it would be great to participate too,” sophomore Elliot Corbitt said.

Many students and teachers don’t see a walkout from school as the right solution. Some students who felt uncomfortable with walking-out said they believed there are more direct ways to help the environment aside from awareness. Some educators posit that you should be educated before you engage in activism, and walking out of school hinders students from receiving their education. Other educators believe exercising your right to protest can be an educational experience in and of itself.

“Activism can be the means by which people become educated,” Social Sciences teacher Jackson Hall said.

Other students partake in sustainability efforts through school clubs such as Environmental Awareness and Advocacy Club, OPHS Save the Bees Club, Save the Oceans Club, etc.

There is no single solution to climate change, no requirements. Just possibilities to engage in … if you want to save our planet.

Environmentalist Robert Swan said it best: “The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”