ICCSD looks to reduce carbon footprint, following weeks of student protests

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South East Junior High students hold a sign reading “Solar Schools” during the Iowa City Student Climate Strike, Friday, April 26, 2019. — Jason Smith/Little Village

Change doesn’t happen overnight. For students in the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), change took 11 weeks of protest every Friday during school hours, and appearing before the school board to express their concerns about climate change.

“We demand the Iowa City school board lead on clean energy and climate change and ask solar companies to submit bids for special plans for solar in our schools, such as a third-party power purchase agreement, which would cost little and save the district money from electricity costs and allow students to learn technology for science courses,” said Southeast Junior High student Alex Howe in a speech on April 26, the sixth week of the Iowa City Student Climate Strike. “We call on the teachers and administration to make climate action a daily part of our school, in all of our courses and activities, from the carbon footprint of our building to the buses and food services. No more excuses.”

The Iowa City Student Climate Strike — led by classmates Massimo Biggers and Howe, and inspired by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg — were held outside the ICCSD Administration Building on N Dodge Street between March 22 and June 21, and featured appearances by former NFL player and Iowa Solar Energy Trade Association President Tim Dwight, and Iowa Poet Laureate Mary Swander.

The efforts of these protesters have recently led to action by the ICCSD school board.

At their June 25 meeting, the school board considered a climate change resolution that aims to improve climate education and reduce the carbon footprint of the ICCSD. The board is expected to vote on the resolution later this month.

The “Iowa City Community School District Resolution to Address Climate Change through Clean Energy, Sustainability, and Education” refers to climate change as a nonpartisan issue, caused by human activity. It also acknowledges the concern for how climate change affects youth.

“Children represent a particularly vulnerable group because greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere will continue to accumulate over the coming decades and will profoundly impact our current students throughout their lives, as well as the lives of future generations,” reads the resolution, which was written in collaboration with administration, the school board and students.

Goals mentioned in the document include the district developing curricula to teach students about climate change, increasing recycling, reducing food waste and working with energy consultants to develop baselines for energy use and greenhouse emissions.

“I applaud the resolution for recognizing that ‘the global impact, urgency, and magnitude of the challenge of addressing climate change calls for leadership in all sectors of society, all institutions and all elected leaders,” Biggers said in a statement on June 24.

Though the board was expected to vote on and pass the resolution at their June 25 meeting, concerns raised by board member Phil Hemingway have delayed the decision. Hemingway took issue with a provision promising to increase plant-based and lower-meat menu options at Iowa City schools.

Hemingway told Little Village that the document is not a final draft, and the board has to research the carbon footprint of the district and the best ways to confront it before setting goals.

City High student Yardley Whaylen talks with ICCSD School Board member Phil Hemingway during the sixth week of the Iowa City Student Climate Strike, Friday, April 26, 2019. — Jason Smith/Little Village

“We’re still working a little bit on the language of it and everything that way. And for me, I just want to make sure that we just don’t pass something that feels like a good type of a thing and then go on,” Hemingway said. “It should be something that there is serious consideration given to and that’s something we can live up to.”

Though the resolution may be a work in progress, the students involved in the strike are celebrating the fact their efforts and demonstrations resulted in action.

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“I was just impressed with their tenacity … they had done a lot of homework, a lot of research, were very committed to it,” Hemingway said of the student advocates.

The strikers’ main goals were “to reduce the school’s carbon footprint and incorporate a climate-based curriculum into our schools,” said City High student Yardley Whaylen in an email to Little Village. Now that the district is taking steps towards these changes, the strikers are looking to expand their reach and make Iowa City more environmentally conscious.

“We have begun going to city council meetings and have already had a private meeting with the mayor to improve upon the 2019-2020 climate resolution,” Whaylen said.

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