Press Democrat by Staff Writer Jeremy Hay

It was just an assignment he got as a high school sophomore, a low-key contest between homerooms to see which group of students could save the most greenhouse gas emissions by using alternative means of transportation.Patrick Schiller

“I was logging my miles and doing my thing,” said Patrick Schiller, 16, who just wrapped up his junior year at Maria Carrillo High School.

Then one homeroom teacher challenged the others, suggesting her class would triumph in the ECO2 School Challenge.

“I got all my classmates together,” said Schiller, who organized them in an all-out effort. They won.

“I’m naturally competitive, especially if someone’s going to come up and say they’re going to win, they’re going to beat me,” Schiller said. “I’m not cool with that.”

The information the class logged in their victory went to the Sonoma County Climate Protection Campaign, where officials contacted the students to see if any were interested in volunteer internships.

Schiller responded and has worked for the past year as an intern for Amy Jolly, manager of the ECO2 School program. He has represented the county at a youth conference, given public presentations and authored a resolution adopted by county supervisors that recognized the ECO2 School program.

“He is not afraid to talk to anyone,” said Jolly, who described Schiller as a “young man who is so committed to a future of sustainability.”

He says his personality drove him to embrace the work of reducing the consumption of fossil fuels. “As soon as I got into that competitive spirit, I learned a whole lot more about it and it’s become a passion of mine,” the Santa Rosa native said.

One challenge he has taken on is trying to convince his peers that they can effect change on a front where the global implications are already making themselves felt. “I always hear kids say that we can’t make an impact,” he said.

“But I just feel that youth should get involved in this movement and that we really could.”

He added: “I definitely feel hopeful. What do we have if there’s no hope? We always have to believe in ourselves . . . no matter how incredibly large an issue it seems.”

Ironically, though Maria Carrillo has what he terms a “wonderful eco club,” Schiller does not belong to it. He is too busy captaining the cooking club, which is advised by his mother, the high school’s culinary arts teacher.

(They carpool to school each morning).

Schiller, who said he dishes up a mean plate of chicken and waffles, brings his competitive spirit to that arena as well: he took fifth place in a youth cooking contest held recently in San Diego.

“I like how creative I can be,” he said. “It’s awesome to go in there and work with all the different ingredients and components.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Jeremy Hay at 521-5212 or jeremy.hay@pressdemocrat.com.)