Students at Tesla STEM High School in Redmond, Wash., are being honored today with the President’s Environmental Youth Award (PEYA) for creating Schools Under 2C, an effort to fight climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Yes, you read that right.
President Trump — who last month abandoned the international Paris Climate Accord, and who has called global warming a “hoax” — and his administration are recognizing the good work of students trying to educate others about the planetary crisis.
But even as the administration is honoring the students, nowhere in the official accolades is any mention of climate change or global warming. In announcing the winners, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency praised the students for “raising awareness about the environment amongst the younger generation” and for leading “their school to reduce their carbon footprint.”
The entire mission of Schools Under 2C is to foster a better understanding of climate change and spark planet-saving efforts at Tesla STEM and schools internationally. The group’s name directly refers to the goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
Not speaking directly of the global-challenge-that-shall-not-be-named is right in line with the EPA’s newly found reticence regarding the issue. Beginning in April, the agency has stripped references to climate change from its website, including the removal of its main climate page.
The students founded Schools Under 2C after Trump’s November election, motivated by their concern that he wouldn’t support efforts to battle warming. On something of a lark they applied for the award in late winter. “We filled it out thinking we didn’t have a chance,” said Anne Lee, the group’s president and a high school junior. “It was really funny. We were shocked to learn that we had won.”
Each of the EPA’s 10 regional offices selects two winners for the President’s Environmental Youth Award, one for kindergarten to 5th grade and another for 6th- to 12th-grade students. The award, which dates to 1971, is described as “one of the most important ways EPA and the Administration demonstrate commitment to environmental stewardship efforts created and conducted by our nation’s youth.”
“When we won the PEYA award, we were really surprised that an administration so dismissive of climate change would recognize our organization that promotes education and awareness about the issue of climate change,” said Fred Qin, a junior at Tesla STEM and compliance director for Schools Under 2C.
The irony of the situation isn’t lost on the students, who are happy to seize the opportunity to further their cause.
“The students are excited that they’ve won this award and hope to utilize the award to educate other students about the solutions to climate change,” said Mike Town, Tesla STEM’s environmental science teacher and faculty advisor for the group.
The applicants were judged by the regional offices for multiple criteria, including the role of youth in creating and driving the project, the environmental need and impact of the effort, for their innovation and for how well the project achieved its goals. Schools Under 2C is the winner for EPA’s Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.
The EPA has not answered GeekWire questions regarding the omission of any reference to climate change in announcing the award.
The Northwest winner for the elementary-age students is Elizabeth S., described by the EPA as a 5th-grade student from Washington state. Elizabeth’s project is called “Bee Happy We Happy” and focused on educating fellow students and others in her community about the important roles played by bees. She researched bees and handed out fliers that encouraged people to plant bee-friendly flowers, become a beekeeper and curb their pesticide use.
At Tesla STEM, the Schools Under 2C students launched a program to reduce energy use by turning off lights in classrooms when they’re not in use. They started an initiative to redirect food and organic waste from the landfill to composting facilities. And they’re working on an app to encourage students to use energy-saving transportation like walking or riding a bike to school, taking the bus and carpooling. The students also participated in the People’s Climate March in April, marching through downtown Seattle to promote Schools Under 2C and show their support for science.
Students interested in joining Schools Under 2C can sign the group’s carbon reduction pledge. More than 30 schools in Washington, Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Florida, Alaska and Australia have signed on. Following coverage on GeekWire last week, the Redmond teens are also speaking to students in the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sweden. Participants receive a copy of Schools Under 2C’s launch kit, containing tools and tips on how to reduce their school’s greenhouse gas emissions, and a carbon calculator for measuring their output.
Last year the President’s Environmental Youth Award winners were invited to a White House ceremony in August. It was hosted by former EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy; John Holdren, Obama’s chief senior advisor; and John King, former Secretary of Education.
The Schools Under 2C students were told that there hasn’t been a decision regarding a ceremony for this year’s winners. Local EPA representatives are coming to the school today to present the honor.
“We don’t think that President Trump actually wants to meet us,” said Lee, the group’s president. “Scott Pruitt (the current EPA administrator) isn’t going to want to meet us either.
“I feel like it would be really awkward,” she said. “I’d try to talk them, but probably nothing would work.”