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History of Climate Activism at Northwest

This year, the 9th grade class was asked to take on a massive topic, climate change. After a unit in science class about the causes and effects of climate change, students were then expected to create an action plan to make a positive impact on the environment. The assignment was open ended, which resulted in a flourishing of creativity. Northwest has a long history of climate activism, being the first school to pledge to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. You can view the full plan HERE. This plan includes direct action, such as fully electric heating and lighting systems, and indirect action, such as only purchasing from eco-friendly companies or farms. These projects are just the latest installation in this tradition. Students have drafted plans to install solar panels, lobby officials for specific changes, and work with organizations they are a part of to achieve net zero carbon emissions. 

Ever since its founding, the Northwest School has placed a priority on minimizing environmental impacts. This is seen in our waste free locally sourced dining hall, our certification as a “green school”, and our entirely solar paneled and water efficient 401 building. Student projects were smaller scale, but still have already shown great impacts. One student project was to support the victims of climate change by having a clothing and food drive for those whose homes were flooded recently in South Seattle. Students have also been educated on how climate change intersects with topics of race, class, and redlining. Areas that are more prone to flooding were and still are almost always lower income areas or areas with a higher percentage of people of color. 

Being “eco friendly” can be expensive. It is no coincidence that the schools that are considered to be the most “green” or “eco friendly” are also extremely wealthy private schools. So can any high school in the country or in the world follow in the example of schools like Northwest? In theory they can but in practice they cannot. The cheapest form of lighting is incandescent lights (, which also happen to be the least energy efficient form of lighting. Similarly, gas heating is the cheapest option, and also unsustainable. So the easiest, cheapest, and most reliable options also happen to be the cheapest. It’s reminiscent of William Gibson’s quote, “the future is here- it’s just not evenly distributed”. However, being eco-friendly can also save money. Northwest’s LED lighting system is extremely efficient, and saves up to $20,000 each year. Schools like Northwest can pride themselves on eco friendliness, but these accomplishments, no matter how monumental, are not so impactful without a widespread privatization of green energy sources. Government funds could be invested in making sure all schools and other facilities are able to use renewable energy, rather than letting the wealthy private schools shell out money for it. Progress is being made on this, as an increasing amount of the energy being used by the general public is from a renewable energy source. So the real impact of climate activism at Northwest is not our net zero emissions, it is the way we push for large-scale systematic change in the way climate change is viewed and combated.

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