For the past year, students at Redmond’s Tesla STEM High School have been hard at work designing and implementing a program to reduce the school’s carbon footprint.
Since it kicked into high gear last February, the school has been able to reduce its total carbon output by 1 ton a month and has gained national acclaim along the way.
On a recent afternoon, senior Bryn Allesina-McGrory and junior Roshan Nair were waiting until their fellow students finished lunch to collect the contents of several compost bins scattered around the school. Both are involved in the program at the school, as well as its expansion to nearly 50 other schools across the country.
“We knew that we wanted to do something, but we didn’t know what we wanted to do,” Allesina-McGrory said.
The program was started after then-President Elect Donald Trump had signaled his intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement last November.
This concerned students at Tesla, and a group of around 100 of them met to discuss what they could do.
The result was a program known as Schools Under 2C, referring to the 2 degrees Celsius mark that climate experts have warned will signal a tipping point if the global temperature increases beyond it.
High school students will be poised to inherit a world that could be radically reshaped by global warming, a fact the founders of the program are well aware of.
“We see it as a moral imperative to us,” Nair said.
Since most students involved with the program were too young to vote in the 2016 presidential election, Allesina-McGrory and Nair said this was a way for them to get involved with the political process.
Key parts of the program are encouraging schools to adopt a robust composting program, monitoring light usage to save power and educating students on how to be good stewards of available resources.
Education in particular plays a prominent role at Tesla, where incoming freshmen take an orientation concerning the program.
“Students have been super receptive,” Allesina-McGrory said.
While students in the region at Tesla and other schools have been open to the programs and the dangers of global warming, both Allesina-McGrory and Nair said there are parts of the country where their message isn’t as well received.
“It shows that there is education that needs to be done,” Nair said.
In addition to reducing their carbon output, their composting efforts have allowed the school to downsize its garbage bin, saving more than $800 each school year.
The program at Tesla incorporates around 50 students divided up into subgroups with specific missions ranging from education and outreach to the development of a power-saving app.
In 2016, the program was also awarded the President’s Environmental Youth Award.
The students at Tesla aren’t satisfied with their current achievements.
Looking to the future, they hope to expand to 60 schools by the end of the year and double their carbon reduction to 2 tons every month.
It’s a goal that seems achievable based on their level of success.
“Stuff just grew really, really fast and we didn’t know that was going to happen,” Allesina-McGrory said.