8th Graders Hit by Hurricane Sandy Come to Washington for a Taste of Environmental Policy and Advocacy
To some people, Hurricane Sandy feels like an event of the past and they have long since forgotten its detrimental effects on New York. To others, like the students at Battery Park City School located in the lower west side of Manhattan, the storms’ memories are still fresh. Many of the students who attend the school that sits only a block back from the water, also reside in the area and were displaced from their homes for weeks while efforts to clean up the storm took place. For this reason, the students understand the severity of climate change and how it creates extreme weather patterns, such as Sandy.
For the eighth graders at Battery Park, a trip to Washington to see just what environmentalists, the EPA, Capitol Hill and the White House are doing to combat climate change was in order. Last Thursday, 60 eighth grade students traveled to the nation’s capital and stopped by NRDC to learn a bit more about what the organization is doing to protect the environment. A handful of staff, myself included, helped guide the students around NRDC and showed them what it’s like to work for an environmental policy advocacy organization. John Walke, NRDC’s Clean Air Director, gave an introductory overview to the Clean Air Act, what air pollution is, why it is so harmful to public health and what the EPA, Congress and the White House are doing to fight it. From there, the students broke up into three groups of 20 and rotated among three stations: 1) an introduction to GIS and how it was used to make a map displaying the affected areas of Manhattan from Hurricane Sandy, 2) a quick presentation of the features of NRDC’s green DC office, and 3) an introduction to the Youth Blogging platform on Switchboard and why hearing from the youth voices is so important in the environmental movement.
A map created by GIS students Sam Beckerman and Mona Avalos showing Hurricane Evacuation Zones in the five boroughs in New York City and where Battery Park City School fits in.
My colleague, Denée Reaves, and I co-lead the introductory session on Youth Blogging and the importance of young voices speaking out against climate change. We were most interested in finding out what environmental issues inspired students most and asked them to write those ideas down on a piece of paper. It turns out these were the top 5:
1) Hurricane Sandy and extreme weather (not surprisingly)
2) Air pollution/asthma and public health
3) Melting polar ice caps and sea level rise
4) Water pollution and sewage issues
5) Saving wildlife/endangered species
A couple of thoughts definitely caught our attention and really brought home the work that NRDC does on a daily basis. The following are actual words from some of the eighth grade students:
“I have slight asthma and a lot of the time when I play soccer outside, it is hard for me to breathe, so I would like to see a change in the air quality.”—Bobby B.
“Hurricane Sandy really affected me. I was out of my house for more than one month and unable to go to school. I hope something like that doesn’t happen again.” – Mena S.
“The environmental issue that inspires me is how our health is being put at threat. If environmental pollution does not decrease, then medical issues will become huge and that is just awful. I would hate to lose the people I care for to pollution.” – Maria S.
“I hate seeing people littering on the street. Humans are probably the worst at biting the hand that feeds them! I also have a vision of oil companies closing down and instead taking up hydraulic systems, hybrids, or solar panels.” – Olivia R.
“An environmental issue that inspired me is water pollution because when oil spills happen, it is hard to contain them. Also, it could kill a lot of animals due to the oil spill.” – Zachary L.
As you can see, the responses were varied but all very passionate, displaying understanding and compassion for issues whether or not they were close to home. The students at Battery Park know that it is time to act to address all environmental issues from air pollution, to ocean acidification to extreme weather. Our goal was to engage them and let them know that their voices are just as, if not more important than politicians’ because it is their future and they have the right to demand action against global climate change NOW. It was encouraging to see how many of the students really cared deeply about the environmental issues presented because it means that there are those in the generation behind us will also be champions of the earth and its future. We hope that the students took away with them a greater awareness for the range of environmental issues that NRDC is focusing on and also that their voices are crucial to continuing the drumbeat for action on climate change.
This piece was co-written by Denee Reaves.