photo courtesy of the British Council
Seventeen-year-old Climate Champion Adam Raudonis is the head of Students for Solar Schools, a grassroots organization that aims to outfit high schools with solar panels. The pupil-led group is currently focusing on its first four schools—three in California, one in New York—but has plans to unite with like-minded students around the country. Adam and other young scholars involved in his organization are hard at work, raising funds, collaborating with school leaders, creating petitions and talking to contractors in an effort to create solar-powered, sustainable schools. Treehugger had the privilege of speaking with Adam. What is a Climate Champion?
The British Council—"the UK's international organization for educational and cultural relations"—joined forces with the California Air Resources Board to select, via a competition, 15 California students to be climate champions. The British Council also has an International Climate Champions program. Students are selected all across the globe to speak with world leaders about climate change. The US members of the international team are usually drawn from the pool of California Climate Champs.
California Climate Champions
The California Champions are often tapped to work on local, national and international issues. They meet with state and international leaders to discuss environmental matters. In addition to these tasks, each champ has pledged to raise awareness of climate change through a project of their own devising.
Why Are Teens Selected to Be Climate Champions?
Sharon Memis, Director of the British Council USA:
"We work with young people because they are excited, passionate and articulate communicators - their concerns are sincere. In our experience, the younger generation feels a responsibility to take action and solve this crisis.Â More readily than most adults, young people can envision individual, local and national contributions adding up to a global change."
Students for Solar Schools
The cause that Adam champions is the Students for Solar Schools. His immediate aim is to reduce the carbon footprint of schools by outfitting them with solar panels. But his goals stretch far beyond just that.
The concept is old, but the ambition is new. Students for Solar Schools represents more than photovoltaic panels on a school gymnasium. Dozens of grants and programs scattered across the nation are already aiding lucky schools become more sustainable. However, such programs have not come close to the ubiquitous status needed to make a significant impact on the environment (and district budgets). Students for Solar Schools sets out to do this with the philosophy that the students themselves are responsible for the change they seek. This ideal times perfectly with a new wave of civil activism sparked by our president that pleads "if wait for somebody else to do something, to make our communities better, it [will] never get done."
A Few Words With Climate Champion, Adam Raudonis
When did you first become concerned/interested in climate change?
I first became interested in climate change in middle school when I was old enough to understand the implications of global warming and the benefits of being sustainable. Since then, I've tried to involve myself as much as I could with environmental causes, culminating with my founding of Students for Solar Schools.
How did you get involved with the Climate Champion Program?
I got involved with the Climate Champions program after submitting a 3 minute video about the affects of Global Warming and tips about being more eco-friendly. I tried to convey how negatively climate change would impact California and contrast that with the environmental and economic benefits of living a greener lifestyle.
What is the best thing about being a Climate Champion?
The best thing about the Climate Champions is having a support network of 15 peers that care about the environment just as much as I do. Also my favorite part of being a Climate Champion is having the opportunity to speak to large crowds, ranging from Students in Mojave to delegates at the Governor's International Summit on Climate Change. Ultimately the Climate Champions program allows you to make a greater impact on the environment and be the voice for California's youth.
You founded a program called Students for Solar Schools. How can other high school students initiate similar programs?
We'd absolutely love to have as many high schools join the movement as possible! Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up and Students for Solar Schools will give you as much personal help and connections as we can to make your school's project a success. Similar efforts for solar panels on schools are scattered across the country, but we are trying to unite these projects into a single network and movement. Already we have 4 schools that are at various stages of fundraising and gaining approval for installation.
You're currently working to raise funds for your Students for Solar Schools program. How are you raising those funds?
We are starting small with a fundraiser at Westlake High School. Donation boxes will be placed in the classrooms and announcements, posters and possibly even video broadcasts will encourage students and parents to donate. Beyond that, Students for Solar Schools will be working towards obtaining large scale grants and donations from corporations.
Your aim is to get solar power for your school without any money from the school district. When the solar panels are up, the school will be running on some degree of solar power. This, I assume, will reduce the school's electric bill. Have you discussed how these savings will be spent?
I really wish school districts could help out, but in our current economic situation I'm sure they'll be even less inclined to do so. When the solar panels are up they should save the school about $15,000 dollars or more over 25 years. The panels at my school wouldn't make a difference significant enough to worry about where the saved money goes towards. However, in the future I believe large scale solar projects at schools are the key to saving districts millions and the money saved should be diverted to improve environmental education or further improve the efficiency of the school.
How can we donate to the Students for Solar Schools program?
Incorporating as a 501c3 takes time, so as of now all donations must be funneled through our school's ASB accounts and supporting Conejo Schools Foundation. Contacting me would be the best way to insure that any donation no matter how small ends up in the right place.
Do have any tips for teens trying to go green?
One of the main tips I have for teens with a car is to inflate your tires at least monthly. That simple action increases the efficiency of your car by 2% and you'll certainly see the savings build up. At Climate Camp over this past summer, all the Climate Champions had to live up to the highest standards of sustainability possible. I found all the small life style changes such as keeping lights off, not using the AC, and taking shorter showers are obvious, but easy to forget. I found it really helps to have a whiteboard in an open place to remind you of all the things you should be doing to live green.
More on Eco-Friendly Teenagers
Green Your Teens with the Web
Teens Going Green
Inconvenient Youth: Teens Taking On Global Warming
Teens Help Low-Income Families Go Green With RelightNY