Op-Ed: Young people are standing up for the climate. We must heed their call for rapid decarbonization.

By Efren Carrillo, Board President, and Ellie Cohen, CEO, The Climate Center

Published in the North Bay Business Journal, October 7, 2019

  • Given the science and climate reality, we must do more.
  • California must immediately begin enacting a suite of policies that put us solidly on the path to reversing the climate crisis by 2030.
  • That means committing to much more aggressive action and accelerated timelines for achieving net-zero emissions, healthy carbon-sequestering ecosystems, and resilient communities.

Last month, millions of young people in the North Bay and all over the world participated in events that are part of a massive youth-led grassroots movement calling attention to the urgent need to decarbonize our economies now, not decades from now. The message young people delivered was aimed at climate deniers and governments that put profit over health in their refusal to recognize climate change as an emergency that threatens us all.

Will we as a society heed the clarion call of our young people?

Climate change poses grave and immediate threats, especially to children, the elderly, and people living in low-income communities. In response, the Pope and more than 70 of the nation’s leading health and medical organizations declared a climate crisis. We are running out of time to prevent irreversible consequences. Our only hope for a vibrant, healthy, and equitable future is to enact aggressive policies now.

The actions we must take are clear. As UN scientists reported, we must slash greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 while making significant progress toward removing upwards of one trillion tons of warming pollutants we have already put in the atmosphere. This will require rapid and far-reaching transformations in nearly every aspect of life: energy, industry, buildings, transport, land use and cities.

California is a leader in addressing climate change. Through landmark legislation in 2018, the state committed to reducing global warming emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieving 100% zero-carbon electricity by 2045. Local governments throughout the state are enacting policies to support these more aggressive goals.

However, given the science and climate reality, California must, and can, do more. As the world’s fifth largest economy, California should continue to serve as a model for the rest of the country and the world. Working with scores of community and business partners, The Climate Center plans to help our state step up to the challenge.

But how?

California state and local governments must immediately enact a suite of policies that put us solidly on the path to reversing the climate crisis by 2030. That means committing to much more aggressive action and accelerated timelines for achieving net-zero emissions, healthy carbon-sequestering ecosystems, and resilient communities.

These policies are within our reach and include upgrading electricity production and storage to be 100% clean and safe by 2030; decarbonizing transportation by enacting a phase-out of new fossil fuel powered vehicle sales no later than 2025; and, managing rural, agricultural and urban lands to sequester more carbon while also aiding communities in coping with climate extremes, from extreme heat to drought and flooding.

The policies must also incentivize all Californians to make climate-friendly choices. Examples include transitioning to 100% renewable energy and replacing natural gas appliances with electric, leasing or buying electric vehicles, using more mass transit, e-bikes and e-scooters, and eating food produced and distributed with practices that do not contribute to the climate crisis.

Enacting these policies will have a long-term net benefit to our economy but will require major investments akin to the World War II wholesale retooling of the economy. To pay for them, we will we need more dedicated market-based mechanisms for putting a progressive price on carbon. California already has a cap and trade system. We also need to implement tax and dividend, frequent flyer fees, green bonds and other mechanisms.

In addition, we urge Californians to elect policymakers at all levels of government who are committed to aggressive policies that rein in climate change and hold them accountable.

Climate activists are fortunate in California that 80% of residents view climate change as a threat to the state’s future economy and quality of life. Two out of three (65%) support acting independently of the federal government on this issue (PPIC).

With a federal government that is becoming increasing hostile to California’s climate policies, we must work even more diligently to deliver climate solutions at the speed and scale that the science requires. To achieve this ambitious and necessary agenda, business will be an essential partner. Throughout the history of our nation, business has driven innovation. Here in the North Bay, many businesses are leading the way to building a vibrant and sustainable economy, from installing solar on rooftops to purchasing electric fleet vehicles to building microgrids that enable businesses to disconnect from the wide area grid and run autonomously.

Will California invest in making the youth-led climate strikes a turning point in the climate emergency? We can’t afford not to.

Efren Carrillo is Board President and Ellie Cohen is CEO of The Climate Center, a California-based nonprofit working to enact the bold policies required by the science and climate reality to reverse the climate crisis. The Climate Center played a pivotal role in growing Community Choice Energy (CCA) which now supplies more than 10 million Californians, one quarter of the state, with 88% clean energy. 

The results are In! Show us the numbers!

We live in the age of fit-bits and health apps that give us instant feedback on step-counts and calories. So why not carbon footprints? How about connecting the dots between self-care, the health of our planet and the power of collective, measurable climate actions? At ECO2school, we closely consider the impact of our transportation choices on climate change and enable students to notice it through a similar kind of feedback loop. Students like that walking and biking is directly under their control, can improve their health positively, and is an excellent carbon-free behavior choice.

A high school student can save about 100 pounds of CO2 on average by choosing to walk, bike, or skateboard to school once a week throughout the school year. This year student leaders at twelve Sonoma County high schools –  Analy, Casa Grande, Credo, El Molino, Healdsburg, Maria Carrillo, Montgomery, Petaluma, Piner, RUP, Santa Rosa, and Windsor – took action to encourage their peers to use active and other eco-friendly commute modes. By putting on events like the ECO2school Challenge, Walki for Guayaki, Cocoa 4 Carpools, and other walk and bike activities, they were able to prevent 25 tons of CO2 (50,000 pounds) from being emitted, reaching more than 10,000 students county wide!

At the end of the school year, we invited our student leaders, their families, and teacher champions to celebrate with us. There was camaraderie and celebration in a room full of 50 people. We recognize our youth leaders’ hard work and commitment to climate action throughout the school year. Three students were awarded The Climate Center’s World Changer’s Scholarship for $1000.

Many were hovering around the chocolate fountain, but students were eagerly gathered around data as well. Often during club meetings, students would express their frustration upon seeing their school parking lots full of cars despite efforts to encourage more walking and biking among their peers. “Are we really making any difference?” they would ask. However, looking at the data from their schools helped them quantify their success as a team and identify opportunities for greater impact.

Coming together gave students the opportunity to reflect on the improvements they could make as a team to boost the participation at their school. Students plan to take this back to their clubs next school year making climate action fun and impactful with tangible greenhouse gas reductions.

Walking and bicycling to and from school helps develop a lifelong habit and supports a community-wide norm of incorporating physical activity into daily routines. We hope our students will connect the dots as they choose to walk, bike, ride the bus, and board the SMART train and we hope you will too!



Center’s World Changers scholars engage peers for impact

Meet the World Changers:

The Climate Center’s ECO2school’s Youth Leadership Development program provides climate leadership training for Sonoma County’s high school youth. The upcoming generation have been brought up in an unsustainable high-energy-consumption lifestyle. They need a pathway away from dirty energy consumption and toward a positive future. Through our ECO2school Program, the Center supports a more sustainable pathway of informed decision-making around careers and lifestyle choices. This year, we supported three students with $1,000 scholarships. These individuals are on the front line of our climate movement and working to change our cultural values around energy consumption. Below are their stories.

Emily Gassaway and Delany Miller teamed up to put on “Green Week” at Windsor High School. Emily characterized her project:

Green Week was designed to stimulate environmentally friendly attitudes and to show people that our community can easily, can save tons of CO2 if we sustain certain behaviors. We showed students that we have the power to turn the odds in Mother Nature’s favor and that the change is in our hands. Green Week showcased a different sustainable event or activity each day. Over the week we connected directly with our peers and explained to them the value of different activities like biking and eating organic, sustainable produce. That week we saved more than half a ton of CO2 from being emitted. We hope Green Week inspired our peers to create ongoing healthy habits.

Delaney Miller (left) and Emily Gassaway (right)

This entire experience was driven by our passion for the environment We started small by creating a club on campus to promote a healthy eco-friendly lifestyle, and through this we gathered a following of people who shared our interest in protecting the climate. We didn’t expect it to impact others and to benefit us personally so much. We have walked away from this experience with a new found love and determination to help the environment and have learned a new set of skills. The skills we developed by working together – leadership, communication, and commitment – have given us the confidence to move beyond the boundaries of school and begin to affect entire communities.

Angelina Espinoza has been working and taking leadership on climate for the past four years. In her own words:

When I joined Eco Club as a freshman, there were four members, myself included. During my two years as President, I have grown the club to a steady membership of approximately 25. Over the years I have implemented a variety of activities on my campus to increase awareness and encourage walking and biking. With such a strong and steady group, implementing different on-campus activities was both fun and easy. In my junior year alone, we saved 1.5 tons of CO2 from being emitted.

My work on campus led to The Climate Center’s Youth Advisory Board. During my time on the board I have become far more educated and engaged about climate issues, and for the past three years I have engaged in many events such as Green Teen, the Y.E.S. Conference, and ECO2School Challenge Weeks. I love public speaking, so I am happy to espouse the risk of climate change and the benefits walking, biking, and carpooling to just about anyone who would listen – friends, family, and increasingly audiences at local and regional conferences.

A highlight for me was being the keynote speaker at the Youth for Environment and Sustainability Conference and addressing over 1,000 students. A speech that truly embodies my feelings on both the immense problem that faces us, and my limitless optimism that we will find a solution: “It’s easy to hear statistics, and read accounts of disastrous storms and sinking islands, but it’s all very removed from our daily lives here in the Bay Area. We all know climate change is happening, but it feels like it’s not happening to us… However, let us not forget that the hottest 15 years on record have happened during the majority of our lives, and that we haven’t known a world other than this hot earth… But also, let us remember that California boasts more EV vehicles than any other state… Let us remember that the whole world looks to California – for fashion, movies, music, and most importantly, solutions. Let us remember that we are in the right place. Let us remember that our planet needs us, just as much as we need it.

Student commute programs cut emissions significantly


Santa Rosa High School student on her way to school.

World wide transportation accounts for only 13 percent of our carbon footprint 1.  However, in the Bay Area transportation is biggest GHG contributor, 2 and here in semi-rural Sonoma County, transportation accounts for more than half of our greenhouse gas emissions 3.  We drive a lot.

So what can we do about it? The Sonoma County Transit Authority listed Safe Routes To School programs like our Eco2school program as a key component to reaching our emission reduction goals. Student commute programs like The Climate Center’s ECO2school Program educate and encourage students to try new healthier behaviors while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In Sonoma County there are 21,569 high school students. According to data collected by the ECO2school program, 13,373 of them live in walk or bike distance (3 miles) from school. Yet only about 3,000 of them or 18 percent use active transportation such as walking and biking. If the other 10,000 students who live in proximity to school walked or biked just one day a week the carbon savings would be significant. In addition, they would be building a healthy habit that can last a lifetime. Once students start biking they realize it is fun and bike commutes don’t take as long as you think.

“I love zipping by all the cars stuck in the parking lot when I hop on my bike to ride home from school.” Says Trae Petruska, Windsor High School Senior. “Even better I ride on a creek path.  I see water, and trees on my ride instead of traffic.”


Students at Windsor High School.

It is not just students however, who need to start changing behavior. Increased physical activity associated with walking and biking generates improvement in community health. Increasing walking and bicycling from 4 to 22 minutes daily reduces GHG emissions and the risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes by 14 percent. This could save Californians an estimated $34 billion in health care and deferred road maintenance costs 3. Most of us are not willing or able to give up our cars completely. But about 60 percent of the trips we take are within a 3-mile radius of our home. Imagine if the half a million people living in our community made a commitment to walking or biking for short trips. There would be less traffic congestion, less road rage, cleaner air, fitter and happier constituents.  And of course the carbon savings would be immense.

So, challenge yourself to start walking and cycling. Support your children (or your parents) to do the same. Like bringing bags to the store, recycling cans, composting yard waste, and refilling water bottles, cycling is a habit we can learn.





Youth leaders converge to share climate solutions

by Amy Jolly, CCP  |  Nov. 24, 2015


The Climate Center’s Youth Advisory Board (YAB) convened more than 50
students from across Sonoma County for the Green Teen Gathering on November 11,

Teen is completely organized and facilitated by high school students
participating in YAB, with mentorship provided by the Center for Climate
Protection’s ECO2school program. The gathering drew in high school students
from ten schools, along with eight community organizations, to discuss ways to make
their school, communities, and the world a greener place.

students delivered keynote speeches. Quiana
Stodder, a senior at Analy High School, opened the event by defining the climate
crisis for her generation, speaking passionately about how it impacts young
people. “Our generation is the future, but more
importantly, we are the present and we must decide right here, right now, what
kind of world we want to live in,” said Quiana. “We are the generation that
will shape the future of our planet, so it’s time we take a stand together and
start to live like the future matters,” she continued.

Casciani, a junior at Montgomery High School spoke about the urgency of climate
change and its local impact, focusing on the drought and Middletown fire. Izzi
Rader, a senior at Windsor High School, wrapped up the speeches by imparting
words of inspiration to her peers, encouraging them to continue and even step
up their commitment to climate action.  

Green Teen
also features roundtable discussions in which all participants get a chance to
speak up about the challenges and solutions. The first round of discussions was
led by YAB, who facilitated ten table discussions on topics ranging from ocean
acidification to compositing, drought, and transportation.


The second
round of discussions was facilitated by local, environmental non-profits
including Pepperwood Preserve, Sonoma Ecology Center, Sonoma County Bicycle
Coalition, and Sonoma County Social Advocates for Youth.

transportation accounting for 65% of Sonoma County’s carbon footprint, using
active or alternative, low-carbon transportation methods for school commutes is
the easiest and most powerful action students can take. The ECO2school
program works with student leaders to help them calculate their carbon
footprint and implement actions to reduce that footprint. In the 2014-15 school
year, students saved 40 tons or CO2 from being emitted. They are
aiming to save even more this year.

like Green Teen serve to inspire and motivate youth leaders as they network for
more effective action today, preparing them to be effective leaders for even grander
impact tomorrow.

can do more than we give them credit for,” says Amy Jolly, ECO2school
Program Manager. “They recognize that climate change is the number one
challenge facing us today and they want to be a part of the solution. They have
power and passion. ECO2school gives them the tools to gain leadership
experience, channeling their energy into action,” she said.

Amy Jolly is the Youth Leadership/ECO2school Program Manager for The Climate Center.