By: Mariana Alvarez-Parga
This week the world is watching as nations gather in Paris for the United Nations (UN) Climate Summit. Known as COP21, or the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, leaders are exposing the challenges we face, how much the Earth has warmed up, and how urgently our world’s nations need to come to an agreement. Some say that “the next two weeks will decide the fate of Earth” as much of the discussion in Paris is expected to center on an agreement to limit global warming to 2C (3.6F).
While I am working on DSA’s 7x7x7 initiative for reducing water and energy consumption in existing schools, I cannot help but wonder: how much does the general public understand climate change, and what are we doing on a daily basis that contributes to it? We’ve all heard of greenhouse gas emissions, but most of us just blame large industries for this, when our personal behaviors stay the same. Unfortunately, we contribute a lot to man-made climate change. We need to be more conscious of what we buy and consume, whether it is food or goods, because most consumer goods have embodied energy that have at some point emitted carbon, methane and CFC’s, damaged natural ecosystems, created waste (lots of waste), or simply encouraged business models that ignore impacts to the environment. But I will admit, although I know this, somehow I need to frequently be reminded in order to make wiser choices.
What better platform to do this than working on transforming schools? The 7x7x7 initiative may want to go beyond water and energy efficiency. The outcomes of this project should be a reminder for us adults, and at the same time teach younger generations about the huge responsibility that lies in every single one of our choices. The solutions to be on the right path involve not only achieving carbon neutrality through renewable energy, reducing the use of greenhouse emissions immediately, converting existing facilities into smart buildings with efficient lighting and systems integration, but it also requires education, communication, and incentives to encourage attitudinal and behavioral changes. SCHOOLS! Here is where everything can happen!
We have it all in one: What we do in schools today could be a demonstration project to teachers, administrators, and better yet, to students who will embrace this, share it with their families, and be our future environmental stewards. These demonstration projects occurring in different parts of California will educate, communicate, and encourage others to contribute to the goal of carbon neutrality. As scientist V. Ramanathan of UC San Diego states in one of his reports on carbon neutrality, each project “can serve as a living laboratory for the art of the possible, sharing it’s good practices” to mitigate their emissions.
Each small step will add to the global effort of building on the success in Paris to encourage governance, regulations, education, and market-based instruments. We can do a lot, just like the 196 nations gathered in Paris this week. Because, as British Prime Minister David Cameron said this week “consider how future generations would respond to the idea that it was ‘too difficult’ for this generation” to create a change.