Kids understand the urgency of taking action, and they are ready to be heard by adults.
by Siri Pierce of Portland, a Casco Bay High School junior and an organizer of SolaRISE Portland, a collaboration among student leaders, residents and educators to promote environmental stewardship.
Portland Press Herald op-ed
Kids are used to adults not listening to them. They are used to being denied the opportunity to drool over dessert menus, or stay at their friend’s house past 9 p.m. They are used to crafting thorough, passionate arguments in their defense, only to stomp upstairs to their rooms in defeat.
But kids are not always fighting for something as silly as dessert or later curfews. Sometimes they are fighting for something that extends far beyond their own lives: their planet. So listen up. It is time to solarize Portland schools.
Around a month ago, a group of Casco Bay High School students set out to interview students from eight schools in the Portland Public Schools, from East End Elementary School to Portland High School. We were eager to hear their perspectives on how they think climate change is affecting our city, and get their input on the idea of powering our schools through solar energy.
Students are already witnessing changes to the environment in Portland and the surrounding areas. We heard from second-graders who have been avidly charting the rising temperatures, seventh-graders who have noticed the sharp increase in lobster prices as a result of ocean acidification, fifth-graders who are worried that shorter ski seasons might threaten many of their family’s winter traditions and eighth-graders who have seen how flooding on Commercial Street is affecting their favorite local businesses.
Kids are not only aware of the drastic and unsettling changes in their environment, but they are also ready to fight to protect it. Students named places across Portland that they wanted to protect for future generations, from Standard Baking Co. to Back Cove – or, as one Rowe Elementary School student noted, “I like everywhere that’s outside.”
We are growing up in a world on the brink of a climate and humanitarian crisis, and we are done with watching adults with power repeatedly deny that change is occurring, the change that will ultimately affect our generation the most. Remarked Nico, a King Middle School eighth-grader, “If we don’t do anything now, the people who are really going to suffer are the people who are younger now, so unless we do something we are going to have very different lives than our parents.” Nico, along with countless other students in Portland, is ready to “do something,” to tackle the bleak trajectory of our planet with the power of youth voice and solar energy.
Last year, my school’s environmental group researched the possibility of installing solar panels on our roof. This idea quickly transformed into a much larger plan: to solarize all of Portland’s schools. We developed a name, SolaRISE Portland, and partnered with city officials as well as the Sierra Club’s Climate Action Team and ReVision Energy to craft a proposal to share with the city.
Solar panels would be installed on top of the six school buildings with the most ideal roof conditions and access to sunlight, generating enough power to meet 79 percent of those schools’ electricity needs. The panels would also promote environmental stewardship among communities and encourage schools to develop science curricula that center on climate change and renewable energy. SolaRISE Portland was the first proposal Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling spoke about in his January State of the City address.
The students we interviewed were ecstatic about this idea. They felt “optimistic,” “empowered” and “hopeful.” Kids understand the urgency of taking action, and they are ready to be heard by adults. “It’s not really their generation that’s getting impacted, it’s us, and if they don’t listen to us, then we’re just not going to have very good lives,” Longfellow fifth-grader Alma reflected.
This is not a matter of dessert or later curfews – this is a matter of our futures, and youth voices are worth being heard. The city has already committed to prioritizing sustainability by setting the goal for city operations to run on 100 percent renewable energy by 2040. But we demand concrete action now. In the next year, the city must develop an RFP to solarize Portland schools; SolaRISE Portland stands ready to help. The students of Portland are rising up for solar energy. We just need adults to hear us.
— Special to the Press Herald