As a teenager, it can be easy to feel powerless in the face of global issues. You’re able to comprehend and stay updated about current events, but can’t vote for politicians and don’t always have the funds to donate to groups you agree with. Luckily, the members of the Olympia High School (OHS) Climate Action Club didn’t feel this way, allowing them to not only start school-wide climate events, but also work with the Olympia City Council to help our city and planet out in a big way.
The OHS Climate Action Club started during the 2018-19 school year by sophomore Kaylee Shen and senior Emma Song. Though the club is only a year old, what it has accomplished is impressive. The group raised $200 for the Climate Reality Project organized a school-wide climate walkout coinciding with international strikes, hosted an environmental assembly at OHS, and worked with the Olympia City Council to pass a climate resolution for the city.
The Climate Action Club is comprised of 15 active members and receives support from additional OHS students. Officers for the club include Kaylee Shen (President), Bahar Bouzarjomehri (Vice President), Louisa Seviér (Youth Legislative Coordinator/Representative), Helen Hauschka (Secretary), and Sierra Edgerton (Public Relations). The group meets every Friday during OHS’s club time. The club’s motto is “The Earth is in Our Hands,” a sentiment restated by Sierra Edgerton, “I want to prove to history that our generation can be better caretakers of our home than previous [generations].”
On July 23, 2019, the Olympia City Council echoed this idea by passing the Climate Inheritance Resolution. The resolution details why members of the council feel an urgency to “rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” It also sets a goal for Olympia to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. The Climate Action Club received endorsements from 11 local businesses and obtained over 500 signature petition signatures. Shen says, “We followed the format of similar resolutions already passed in other cities around the US through iMatter [Youth] and adjusted the language to fit with the city of Olympia and for our specific goal, net-zero [carbon emissions] by 2040.”
Shen plans to continue being involved in environmental activism and is interested in majoring in a climate-related topic, such as environmental economics. “We care about this issue because, although it sounds cliché, the earth is truly our only home,” she says, “and oftentimes, people don’t really comprehend the real importance of protecting what we have. Environmental activism is usually seen as altruistic, as if we were protecting something else, when really, we should be protecting our home for ourselves and the generations of people to come.” Shen goes on to point out that humans can’t continue functioning without a livable planet, an argument she reiterated in her July 2019 TEDxOlympia High School talk.
Throughout her TEDx talk, Shen argues that climate change is a human rights issue and that personal connection is the pathway to creating global change. She points out that other social justice movements throughout history have used stories to make their points. She tells of families who were displaced by wildfires and floods, giving an example of how real people are impacted by the climate every day. She believes sharing these stories is a way to encourage change. This idea is part of the way the Climate Action Club approaches education.
Upon reflecting on her experience in writing a city-wide climate resolution, Shen says, “Olympia has truly an amazing, supportive and environmentally conscious community which really helped with our success. The entire experience, negotiating with the council members and finally achieving our goal really led me to see the power of the community and to really draw upon that support to fight for climate justice. Even if the setbacks were real, the support and encouragement we needed were there in front of us, we just needed to see it.”