The Journey From High Schoolers To Climate Leaders In Two Semesters Or Less

by Amanda Peterson, via Climate Access

School is back in session for high schools all across the country and the one thing on every student’s mind is, of course, climate change. OK, maybe in most schools who’s dating whom, getting into college and the elections are getting a bit more play.  But as we, the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), start back up, we’re getting climate change to top of mind, too.

Since 2009, we’ve been working with high schoolers – with an assembly, student action programs and leadership trainings – in climate science and solutions. We’ve reached more than a million high schoolers and seen the first of this generation of leaders step up to tackle some issues that people twice their age are intimidated by.

But since I’ve started at ACE, I’ve heard the question: “Why high schoolers?” or “Can we really wait for high school students to become tomorrow’s leaders, given the window of opportunity on climate change?” more than I ever would have expected.

Sometimes, I cite statistics on how influential high schoolers are on their peers, their family decisions and their schools.

Sometimes, I show videos of students we’ve worked with speaking at Power Shift, taking meetings at the White House, speaking at school board meetings and state assemblies about local environmental issues.

And sometimes I even show the findings that most high school students would fail a test on basic climate science without ACE.

Why we focus on high schoolers is simple.

High school students need, want and deserve to know the science and possible solutions to an issue that is going to affect the rest of their lives. They may be young, but high schoolers are not kids.

They’re forming their own strong opinions about the world and the way it should work. They’re passionate about causes that involve fairness, their future and their communities.

They’re vocal. They’re influential. And, they’re able to vote for the first time in the next four years — some are getting ready for their first election in less than 50 days. Victories such as California’s Prop 23 movement and local coal plant closures are rooted in young, diverse audiences caring and being connected. So we want to make sure that there’s a steady stream of young, diverse audiences engaged on the solutions to climate change.

We start with engaging students with the science and solutions – not just the theoretical, but tangible stories of students their age and what they’ve accomplished. So the imperative to do something about climate change is quickly followed with ideas to spark their imaginations and “case studies” that give them confidence that they can actually do something.

But we also follow up. We support environmental clubs, tracking projects that reduce CO2, whether they’re energy projects or waste-reduction campaigns. We encourage them, help them brainstorm project ideas, reward them and, when they accomplish amazing things, help them tell their stories. Including sharing their stories with other schools to inspire more students into action.

Every project isn’t just a small CO2 reduction. It’s also an opportunity for young leaders to find themselves in the climate movement, develop confidence in themselves and practice the tools and skills that will make them effective in school, in life and in directly addressing climate change.

Yes, sometimes they make handmade posters about polar bears. But young people also get Styrofoam trays eliminated from their schools decades after others had given up. They shift their school’s energy consumption patterns, not just for ACE’s campaigns but for good.

And they bring back what they learn about efficiency, climate impact and waste back to their homes and community in ways that other generations haven’t done before them.

We see high schoolers as a critical piece of the movement. Of reducing climate change. Of bringing more people into the issue. Of building the communities we want to live and thrive in.

Every June, we launch another crop of energized, smart and engaged climate leaders into the world. Seeing the action, the energy and the impact they make regularly along the way, we’re proud to be working on climate change from homeroom out.

Amanda Peterson is director of communications and marketing for the Alliance for Climate Education. This piece was originally published at Climate Access and was reprinted with permission.

5 Responses to The Journey From High Schoolers To Climate Leaders In Two Semesters Or Less

  1. Great work! Keep it up.

    Communicating and educating people about climate change is as important as any other aspect of the fight.

  2. Henry says:

    To the question, “Why high schoolers?”, I would think for the same reason that kids used to be drafted for the armed forces at age 18. They are still very impressionable at that age and can be molded to fit whatever purpose is needed, whether it be going to war or spreading the word on Climate action.

  3. Leif says:

    While “molded” is not the the word I would have picked Henry, that ability does not end at teenagers, as witnessed by the ability of advertisers, politicians and greedy folks to get the masses to march through the door step of doom for the enrichment of the few.

  4. caerbannog says:

    This looks like as good a thread as any to pitch the new WattsBuster(tm) software package.

    Once it is set up and running (a bit of a project in itself — details below), students will be able to “roll their own” global-average temperature estimates by clicking on GHCN station locations on a map. As each new station is clicked, the global-average temperature display will be updated with the new station’s data.

    Results are computed from both raw and “homogenized” data and plotted right along with the official NASA/GISS results for direct comparison.

    The gridding/averaging procedure that I implemented is a seriously “dumbed down” version of the NOAA/CRU gridding/averaging scheme. It’s a very straightforward averaging procedure that does not involve any kind of data “adjustments” or interpolation steps. There’s nothing there that a “skeptic” could point to as an example of “data manipulation”.

    With this package, students can impress their friends (and annoy their AGW skeptic parents) by shooting down all of Anthony Watts’ claims about the global temperature record, with just a series of mouse-clicks.

    The package is a combination of my own code and code shamelessly stolen*** from other sources, all cobbled together with “virtual duct tape” to provide the working package.

    (*** stolen in full compliance with software license agreements)

    This should be considered a “work in progress” proof-of-concept prototype (there are some “half-baked” features in the code that haven’t been activated yet — keep that in mind if you start digging through the code).

    This is definitely *not* “App Store” ready — not by a long-shot.

    Experiment with the package a bit, and if you are successful in getting it up and running, you will see how amazingly easy it is to replicate the NASA/GISS global-warming trends with both raw and adjusted data.

    Here are a couple of screenshots of the package at work:

    WattsBuster(tm) user-interface (front-end) screenshot:

    WattsBuster(tm) temperature display (back-end) screenshot (50 “long record” rural stations, randomly selected):

    In the upper panel of the “back end” plot, the official NASA/GISS “meteorological stations” index is plotted in blue. The “50 random rural stations” raw data results are plotted in red. The “50 random rural stations” adjusted data results are plotted in green.

    The lower panel shows how many of the selected stations actually reported data for any given year (variations in station record-lengths, data “gaps”, etc. mean that the number of stations reporting data for any given year will vary.) So as you are “rolling your own” global temperature results, keep an eye on that lower panel. In virtually every case where your results look “lousy”, it will be because only a handful of your stations have reported data during the “lousy” periods.

    The software will run on Linux, Windows (with Cygwin/X installed), and OS-X machines. (Details available in the included README files.)

    Getting it set up to run is a bit of a chore, however. It is very helpful to be comfortable in a Unix command-line environment. You will need to compile the “back end” global-temperature-calculation program from source. You will also need to install some other software packages (all are free and reasonably easy to install).

    For the QGIS software (which I appropriated for this project), you will need to modify one of the plugins by manually replacing one of the plugin files with a “hacked” version that is supplied in the WATTSBUSTER(tm) package.

    You can download the full WATTSBUSTER(tm) package from

    The full package includes all GHCN raw and adjusted data. It’s a fairly big download.

    The “light” package (no temperature data, smaller download) can be obtained at You will need to go out and get your own GHCN V3 temperature data if you go with this package.

    Detailed (hopefully not too opaque) instructions are included in a couple of README files.

    Once again, this is something for folks comfortable with “old school” Unix command-line environments. Otherwise, it could turn into an exercise in frustration.

    However, I’m sure that there are quite a few computer-savvy high-school students out there who will be able to take this ball and run with it.

    The whole thing is built on GPL open-source software, so it is freely redistributable in accordance with the GPL.

  5. Merrelyn Emery says:

    People in their teens can be responsible ‘grown-ups’, running households and properties. We have increasingly infantilized them, another aspect of our great leap backwards over the last 250 – good to see a shift, ME