Big Journeys Begin with Small Steps

kayla-c-headshotSaturday is an “International Day of Action” organized by Greenpeace, which claims 4,800 events are scheduled around the world toward “a safe climate future.”

This seems like a good time to check in with one of our 2009 California Climate Champions. In this post, Kayla Clark of Atascadero describes her efforts to reduce greenhouse gases by targeting those ubiquitous disposable water bottles  at her school.

In my observation, sometimes when faced with the reality of climate change, we’re frightened. It can be a normal reaction to run back to our previous habits, jump in the large SUV, leave the lights on, and plead ignorance.  It’s indisputable that there is a serious issue that must be dealt with, but only through breaking down the problem to approachable and accessible goals can we hope to improve the situation.

My name is Kayla Clark, and I am a California Climate Champion and a junior at Templeton High School.  California Climate Champions is a program sponsored by the British Council in partnership with California Air Resources Board that selects young people throughout the state who are leaders in communicating about climate change to their communities.  There are 25 of us all together and the program enables us to work with one another to discuss climate change with a wider audience.

Each California Climate Champion is responsible for completing an individual project to communicate about climate change to his or her own community.  My project is to reduce the number of plastic water bottles purchased at my school and in my community by selling reusable water bottles on campus, as well as coordinating the development of a more attractive water source on campus.  For two years, I have seen hundreds of disposable water bottles purchased daily at Templeton High School. We do have recycling bins on campus but many students don’t utilize these bins. I estimate that maybe twenty students occasionally use reusable water bottles on my campus.

The goal of my project is to use water bottles to share a wider message. We can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing student consumption of disposable water bottles, and we can permanently change behavior–even if that means affecting only the smallest of lifestyle choices.  At the core of these goals has always been communication. For me, that has meant sharing information at my high school, collaboration with my campus environmental club, and committing to speaking engagements and volunteer opportunities.

I realize that I can’t undertake my water bottle task alone. For that reason I’ve contacted and partnered with my school’s environmental club and my school principal so that we can work together on this project, and they have both been extremely supportive. Having a local network is very encouraging.

I’ve also had a couple of great opportunities to speak with different groups about climate change. I have addressed the Air Pollution Control District (APCD) at their July board meeting and the San Luis Obispo Exchange Club.  Both experiences were really interesting, as many of the audience members had basic questions about climate change and the science behind it, so answering their questions was really exciting.

My presentations are also leading to an expanded network with new opportunities.  From my presentation with APCD, I was given the chance to volunteer at my local farmers’ market for the APCD “Food Miles” booth.  We gave out free reusable grocery bags, and educated the community about food transportation and its impact on our climate, as well as the benefits of eating locally to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s true that as a concerned teenager implementing reusable water bottle usage, my audience isn’t the largest. But my project is more than giving students a new water bottle and telling them to fill it up daily. I am trying to influence behavior.

I feel that my actions are part of a ripple effect and by raising awareness to the pressing issues, more ripples are being made and more students and adults are opening their eyes.

The California Climate Champions program is the U.S. component of the British Council’s International Climate Champions program, which identifies young people around the world who are leaders in communicating about climate change and engaging their communities in action. In the US, the program is co-sponsored with the California Air Resources Board (ARB) and selects 10-15 high school students from across the state each year.

See photos from the International Day of Action event in San Francisco.

Big Journeys Begin with Small Steps 23 October,2009Gretchen Weber

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