Off the Deep End: What can high school students do?

One of the problems that has confronted every teenager in recent history is that it’s the age at which you are becoming aware of the world around you and the problems in it, but according to the law, you are still a child, and have no power or money to make a difference. While that perception is not entirely true (you DO have the power to make a difference), there are many ways in which it is.

What’s interesting about the current situation is that when it comes to climate change, most adults are also lacking in power and financial resources to address it. This guide is written, in large part, for people who have trouble figuring out what to do about climate change, because they don’t have the financial resources to take large actions like putting solar panels on homes, or buying electric cars. That means that most of what’s in this guide applies to children teenagers as well as adults. Everything about art, about getting involved – all of that applies to students, so if you’re reading this as a teen or younger, at least skim through the rest of the series, because there’s stuff in there that may be of use to you.

For those of you in school (and I’m going to focus on high school here), you’re in an interesting situation. The world you move in is centered around you, but control of it is, for most students, out of your hands. That said, most people working in schools genuinely want what’s best for students, and like it when students “get involved” in things. So talk to your favorite teachers. Talk to school administrators if you can. Bring up climate action, and then KEEP bringing it up until something is done. When a number of students are publicly and obviously persistent on an issue, it becomes difficult for the educational power structures to ignore.

Also, do some research. There are a number of institutions out there set up specifically to help high school students take action on a wide variety of issues, including climate change. The best example I’m aware of off the top of my head is the Alliance for Climate Education. They come to schools and do a free presentation, and there’s a process through which some school groups can get a small grant to help out with a  climate action project in their school. There are other groups out there (and I may make a list at a later date), so do some research!

Another thing students can do is educate yourselves. I know this sounds redundant in many ways, and it doesn’t feel like action, but school is one of the few times in your life where you are expected to spend most of your time on self-improvement and education. Learn about the nuances of science and research, so you’ll know what you’re talking about. Learn how to persuade people (see the reading list), and how to write well. Practice your arts. Ask questions. Because of your age, you will often be dismissed. You will be told things like “you’ll understand when you’re older”. The best way to counter that, and to render that silencing ploy useless, is to know what your talking about, and to be able to call out the adults who try to use it on you. Education isn’t all that’s going on in high school by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a useful thing, and to quote a cliche, knowledge is power. It really, REALLY is. It’s not the only power, but it is A power, and it is the one most available to the masses, and hardest to take away, as was mentioned in this version of the Count of Monte Cristo:

And finally, be loud, and be active. As I mentioned before, when students are persistent – especially large groups of students – they are hard to dismiss or ignore. Schools really DO center around you, even if they do so in a rather strange manner at times. If you can provide arguments backed up by information, and if you are persistent, you can make change. Getting your parents involved can help too, but it’s not necessary. At the end of the day, if the entire student body or even a really vocal minority of it is shouting for change, it will not be ignored.

You can also get involved in politics, even though you’re too young to vote. If you pay attention, you’ll notice that children and teenagers are used in political arguments on a daily basis by people from every party and every position. You, as a representative of our future, have a lot of power as a symbol, and you will be used as a symbol whether you want to or not. It’s useful for politicians (even those enacting policies that harm you in the long run), but it also means that when you speak out in a clear, knowledgeable, and coherent manner, you have a power that THEY gave you by making you into a symbol for their own interests. Use that. DEMAND attention from your elders, and from those who run the country. Any politician that obstructs climate action, while invoking “our children, and our children’s children” is vulnerable, and the people best placed to attack that vulnerability are YOU – the very  people they are talking about.

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