Answering A Vermont High School Student Worried About Climate Change

Guest article written by Brian Ettling.

In March 2015, a freshman high school student from Vermont named Robin wanted me to answer questions for her school science class climate change project. She asked to interview me because of my experience as a park ranger seeing climate change while working at Crater Lake National Park over the past 23 years. Even more, I spent the past four years at Crater Lake communicating about climate change during my evening campfire program and creating a park handout on the impact of climate change on Crater Lake.

Her final interview question for me was the most profound question anyone has asked me about climate change. Robin wanted to know:

What can an everyday teenager to do not add to climate change?

This was a terrific question that truly deserved a deep, well-thought-out response.

Thus, I wrote back this answer to Robin:

Great question Robin!

First, more than anything, I would encourage you to chat with your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and family about climate change. Yes, they may act like you don’t know what you are talking about because they think of you as a teenager. However, stick to your guns on this. Don’t give an inch. Don’t rebel, but stay firm in your conviction that climate change is real, primarily caused by humans right now, 97% of climate scientists agree, it is bad, but we can limit the damage if we act now.

If your parents and grandparents negatively question you, do firmly respond, “Climate change is real and primarily caused by humans because I am learning that in school right now.”

This is exactly how my best friend, Scott, became convinced of climate change. It was not from his hippy, tree-hugging, liberal best friend (me) trying to convince him. It was his son, Ricky. Scott kept making fun of the concept of climate change. However, Ricky would not give an inch. He kept saying, “No, dad, this is what we are learning in school…”

Eventually, Scott did come around to accept the science. When he did, he called me to tell him how Ricky had convinced him. Without directly saying it, Scott wanted to let me know how proud he is of his son. This pride stemmed from how smart his son is, how closely he was paying attention in school. Even more, how Ricky stood firmly to what he accepted as true, in light of his skeptical father making fun of him. I think that impressed Scott more than anything. I blogged about this conversation with Scott in my December 22, 2011 blog: The Two ‘Green’ Wise Men Pushing on My Best Friend.

Second, write to your Representative and Senators in Congress. Yes, I realize you are 15 and you cannot vote yet. Please tell them you are concerned about your future with climate change. Tell them this will be a top issue when you do turn 18 and can vote. Tell them your parents and family members who do vote are concerned about climate change. Even though you cannot vote, this still grabs their attention to receive letters from teenagers and kids.

Third, get your student government to pass resolutions on climate change. This may also get the attention of your teachers and principal. It could even impact your school’s policy on this subject with energy efficiency, recycling, how it is taught in science classes, outside invited speakers to your school, etc.

One group of speakers I encourage you to invite to your school is the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). Their mission is to educate and inspire young people to break through the challenge of climate change.  They bring speakers to high schools in various parts of the United States, including New England, to illustrate the latest science on climate change causes, consequences and solutions. During the ACE school assemblies, they challenge all students to pledge a DOT, a commitment to “Do One Thing” to protect our climate. DOTs range from turning off lights to talking to parents about climate change. When students pledge a DOT, they join ACE’s nationwide online network to learn more about climate science, get tips for educating others, and take action on the local and national scale. I sat in on an ACE Assembly at a high school in Oakland, CA in December 2011. I thought it was very informative and effective for reaching high school students.

Besides ACE, there are other amazing groups organizing young people on climate change. A friend on the Facebook discussion group, Global Warming Fact of the Day, recommended you contact Our Children’s Trust. I am impressed with the group Kids Vs. Global Warming. Both of these groups are empowering youth to demand action to reduce the threat of climate change with marches and litigation. The most important thing you can do is to get involved whether you join an existing group or create your own group. Find some way that connects with you to be part of the solution.

Robin is still working on this high school class assignment. In her last e-mail to me, she is setting up a website to complete this school project. She promised to send me a link when it is completed. I hope my answers to her questions will help her get an A on this class assignment. Even more, I hope my answer will help her get an A in life for Robin and her classmates to act to reduce the impact of climate change.

Brian Ettling has been a seasonal park ranger at Crater Lake National Park, Oregon and Everglades National Park, Florida for the past 23 years.
While working in these parks, he witnessed the impact climate change is having on these national treasures. Determined to effectively communicate about climate change and inspire people to take action, he developed his own website in 2010, In 2011, Brian created his blog, and became a Senior Contributing Writer He is a Climate Reality Project Leader since August 2012, giving over 70 climate change talks as a teacher, Toastmaster, park ranger, and public speaker. He is the co-leader of the St. Louis group for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.