Greetings from the winds and waves of Lake Superior! As promised, it is time to update you on our adventures and our engagement with communities around the lake on climate change. It has been a stellar month and I walk away with several insights that I’d like to share with you.
With our total crew of eight people, we sailed about 800 miles and engaged with ten schools on climate change and climate action, half in the U.S. and half in Canada. We spoke with alternative schools, public schools and charter schools, grades 3-12. With the younger kids we focused on keeping Lake Superior “Clean, Cold, and Clear.”
Keeping it “clean” was about reducing garbage, especially plastic. Keeping it “cold” was about reducing fossil fuels. Keeping it “clear” was about invasive species.
With the older students we dove deeper into the changes occurring on Lake Superior, helped them write letters to their elected officials, and did a personal questionnaires to examine their lifestyles and identify possible changes.
All participants were welcome to sign our "Clean, Cold, and Clear Challenge" Lake Superior map.
This year, our projects focused on the reduction of plastic use and the seven R’s. Did you know that recycling, though better than filling landfills, is actually a last resort for the dedicated garbage reductionist? Stay tuned for more details on that one in a future column, as well as the four questions you should always ask yourself before making any purchase at all.
One of the most rewarding projects we did was to give schools “No Idling” signs for their parking lots. School parking lots are some of the most notoriously polluted air spaces for human lungs, made worse by their proximity to air vents in the schools.
The growing problems of asthma and allergies and other respiratory difficulties have made unnecessary school bus idling in Minnesota illegal. (Minn. Statute 123B.885) Nevertheless, habits are hard to break, and school buses, as well as parents waiting for their children, continue to idle.
Our “No Idling” signs were enthusiastically accepted by students and teachers everywhere we brought them. In fact, one student had tools in hand and was walking out the door to install them as we were leaving. In small schools, things happen fast.
Rural kids have one huge advantage over Lake County kids, I noticed: They never eat fast food!
Fast food is an industry that is going to transform itself as the low-energy economy grows. Currently fast food operations encompass many elements of a throw-away society. Feedlot and agribusiness food products, the waste and plastic that each meal uses — even the fact that consumers idle their cars while waiting for their food — all these things make fast food one of our worse offenders of fossil fuel use.
But kids who live in the vast forests and shoreline between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie (a distance of 700 miles) have no fast food available to them anywhere nearby. The students, who by all appearances were quite content despite this basic deprivation, were tickled to know that this not only relieves them of fast food addiction, but it’s great for the planet.
Climate action is growing everywhere, in every school, and in every state and province. As we watch Canadians adjust to the carbon fee-and-dividend legislation, and hear their discussion and debate, I feel we are peeking into our future.
It’s time to dive in, and virtually everyone on this lake, I’m grateful to say, seems to know it.
Katya Gordon is a volunteer for the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and a Two Harbors resident.