October 25, 2021

100 plus students attend Homer climate change summit

A call to action

People at Homer climate summit

Travis Dunn/Staff Reporter

Aislyn Colgan of Cornell Cooperative Extension, left, explains the dynamics of the local energy grid to Sophia Vacanti and Mark Penhollow, both from Baker High School in Baldwinsville, at the Central New York Youth Climate Summit Saturday at Homer Senior High School.

HOMER — A proposal to combat climate change by charging a fossil fuel fee of $15 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions was one of the subjects that students learned about Saturday morning at the Central New York Youth Climate Summit held at Homer Senior High School.

More than 100 students attended the event, at which they learned more about climate change as well as practical steps they could take to combat it.

Sponsored by the New York State Master Teacher Program, the Climate Summit offered students two morning sessions of classes followed by a “green fair” and an opportunity to write action plans for their schools.

In the “Climate Change and Civic Engagement” morning class, Ithaca engineer Ethan Bodnaruk explained the carbon-fee proposal, which is advocated by his group, Citizens’ Climate Lobby. The proposal entails paying the revenue generated from the fee directly to individual households, which works out to about 15 cents per gallon of gasoline, he said. The fee would increase annually by $10 per ton.

The fee does not go to the government but would be immediately redistributed to Americans — a possible selling point to conservatives and libertarians, said Bodnaruk, since it does not expand the size of government, and also does not rely on regulation to achieve emission reductions. This proposal is a bill — HR 763, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act of 2019 — currently before the U.S. House of Representatives.

Bodnaruk said this bill, if implemented, would reduce future carbon emissions further than the goals stated by the 2016 Paris Agreement — cutting carbon dioxide emission by 50% over 20 years.

In additions to questions about the bill, students also had more fundamental questions to ask.

“Why did we create stuff that was going to harm us later?” asked one student, prompting Bodnaruk to talk about the industrial revolution and how greenhouses gases were not a known danger 200 years ago.

Rhiannon Ackerman, a senior at Solvay High School, wanted to know why the bill was stuck in the House.

“I think it’s a pretty good idea,” she said. She wanted to know “what the major counterargument is.”

Bodnaruk cited general mistrust of government as one reason.

“The political climate makes it hard,” said Ackerman, citing partisan polarization.

Jacqueline Cappello, a board member for the Onondaga Central School District, came with a group of three teenage students and her 4-year-old son Quillan.

Quillan said the early morning session they had attended — “Impacts of Climate Change on the World’s Oceans” — was “a little bit good.”

His mother laughed. “He’s obsessed with cephalopods,” she said. She took him to the session so he could learn how climate change increases ocean acidification, threatening octopi and squid (i.e. his beloved cephalopods).

Just before lunch, the students attended a green fair in the gym, where they could learn about solar power, composting and a dozen other subjects.

Electrical power generation was one. Aislyn Colgan of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County showed students where local electricity comes from and how demands on the grid affect the flow of electricity.

The point of the demonstration was two-fold, she said — to show students the need to reduce electricity consumption but also “that we can’t all use it at the same time.”

Following lunch, the students had one further task — “to write action plans to take back to their schools,” said Heather Tennant, one of the event volunteers.

Students worked on the plans in school teams, she said, and the purpose was to incorporate what they had each learned at the summit and recommend concrete actions that their schools could take.

“It’s exciting for me to see these kids involved,” Tennant said.