The TH Interview: Taylor Schmidt, Student at Greensburg High School

He’s a high school student from the town of Greensburg Kansas, and his enthusiasm for the green movement and the amazing things it’s doing for his town after the devastation caused by the tornado that leveled it are an inspiring look at the future of green in America.

After spending close to an hour speaking with him by phone I realized precisely why the rebuilding of Greensburg can become an uplifting model for us all. I trust you’ll enjoy his insight and enthusiasm as much as I did.

TreeHugger: What do you believe made the people of Greensburg decide to rebuild the town in a green fashion?

Taylor Schmidt: Well after at least 96% of the town was destroyed there has obviously been a massive need for rebuilding, and the town has come together as a big family, really, and it’s been one joint effort to rebuild the town better than it was and more sustainable and green than it was. So we’ve really been learning a lot about what we need to do to keep our town from dying again. And we’ve been learning about building and going green and implementing a lot of green into our rebuilding efforts.

TH: And what have people in Greensburg learned that’s struck you particularly?

TS: Well we live in a very red, conservative state. It’s the buckle of the Bible Belt. But we have become informed about green and see it as a universal concept. It’s really a bipartisan issue, so I believe that parties shouldn’t influence it. And green just makes sense to us, it’s really simple switches. Simple ways you can build where it will last longer, save more energy, and use fewer resources. And there’s been an incredible amount of folks helping us implement these ideas.

TH: How well do the other kids in Greensburg understand all of this?

TS: Kids have been the driving force for rebuilding. It’s practically unprecedented. They’ve actually encouraged us to come into the process of rebuilding and haven’t been shunning us like most people would. They’ve really embraced us; almost all of the youth have become involved in the rebuilding of Greensburg. We’ve been on committees with FEMA and there are around 20 students out of 100 involved on various committees and things like that.

And because of that involvement a green club has formed at Greensburg High School. Basically it’s a group of kids that want to learn more about green, what it is, how simple it is, how we can implement it in our lives. And what affect it has on our lives, finances, and the city.

It’s just so exciting; I don’t think you can find a person in the whole high school who doesn’t know about going green.

TH: How have the youth of Greensburg helped others in town understand the concept of going green?

TS: We’ve been reading about it so we can help those who don’t understand it as much in older generations; and as we learn more about things we can do ranging from emailing assignments or encouraging some people that are rebuilding to use CFL’s instead of incandescent light bulbs we’re really making a difference. The school community has really been supportive as well. The school is even going to be rebuilt to LEED platinum standards. It’s a testimony to how much impact green has on our town right now. We’ve even gone with several of our teachers up to Chicago to the national green building convention and learned about how we can rebuild school and town with green roofs for water, and other practices ranging from all sorts of simple things like using efficient lighting and efficient water usage to installing wind turbines and solar and geothermal heating. Our school is actually going to be powered by its own large wind turbine.

It’s going to be a sustainable, lasting, innovative, comfortable, and inspiring atmosphere that encourages education and works with environment instead of against it. That’s what the entire town is trying to do; work with nature instead of against it.

I think of myself as a 17-year old watching our town learn about how we can thrive again and even grow back better than we were before. Some people think how terrible it must be, but I think it’s a blessing to live in such exciting times.

TH: What have you come to believe makes the town of Greensburg so unique?

TS: We’ve realized that the spirit of working together is what makes Greensburg so unique. Before this happened we all (the youth) wanted to leave, but now we want to stay. It’s given us a reason to understand we have a long term affect on our community and the world.

And we think that by going green we can show the rest of the world what we’re made of and that we can come back again from tragedy.

TH: And what impact do folks in town believe you’ll all be having on society by choosing to be a part of the upcoming show?

TS: We really want to show them what’s next, and what’s going to happen; the responsibility each of us have for the earth. We’re an eco-town and a shining example of what we’re all going to need to do if we want to continue living in a world that gives each of us so much.

TH: If you had one question you could ask President Bush when he comes to speak at the high school graduation May 4th, what would it be?

TS: How can the U.S. change its ways? How are we all going to become informed; as informed as we are here in Greensburg? Many people here thought that green was just this way out there radical idea that’s never going to happen… Just this crazy little thing and that we’re fine and nothing bad is ever going to happen.

But we’ve become informed that yes; there is something to be concerned about. Green isn’t radical, it’s simple. There are radical elements to it, but it’s really simple and about changing bad habits to things that are more responsible with the result of making huge improvements on this world.

Even these old Republicans here are realizing it’s good on their finances, more comfortable than traditional methods, and it’s really not California radical at all.

You don’t have to give up everything; you can actually gain things by going green. Look at us; we’re gaining a whole town by going green. It’s extremely exciting!

TH: Taylor, is there anything else you’d like everyone out there in America to know about going green?

TS: Just that green is so simple; it’s not a radical concept. It’s just a simple switch to make a huge difference.

The rebuilding of Greensburg, Kansas is set to be the focus of an original television series airing on Discovery’s Planet Green this summer.

See also: President Bush to Give High School Commencement Address to Greensburg Graduates, Introducing Daniel Wallach: Executive Director of Greensburg GreenTown

Tags: Kansas