Students give Edina a passing but unsatisfactory climate grade

Students from Edina High School presented a climate report card at an Edina City Council meeting. (Submitted photo)
Students from Edina High School presented a climate report card at an Edina City Council meeting. (Submitted photo)

Between adopting the minutes, sketch reviews and other council business, an unconventional item was added to the Edina City Council agenda at the last minute.
Members of Project Earth and iMatter, a national student group with a chapter at Edina High School, presented a Climate Report Card to the city council during its Feb. 7 meeting to share their findings on the state of climate policies on a city level.

The report card is a tool developed by iMatter based on the science of Dr. Jim Hansen, formerly of NASA, who with a team of scientists created a recipe of what it would take to make “meaningful” progress against climate change. They also presented a Climate Inheritance Resolution in hopes of future approval by the council.

Freshman Andrew Hou did the bulk of the work on contacting city employees and compiling the information needed for the report card.
“As a freshman, I was just the one with the most free time at the start,” Hou said. “Since I had all the information, I just got there and it just snowballed.”

C is a national average, on par with many other cities, but for iMatter, the grade is a sign of needed improvement.

“Edina is at the national average because we have taken several steps,” Rozy Eastaugh said. “We have a community solar garden, that boosted one grade. Waste management boosted another. But there was a D-minus in the zero emissions plan.”

The five different components, each with different weights, together created the overall grade.

Five of the iMatter students, Eastaugh, Joanna Kim, Guari Madhok, Grant Wothe and Allison Risser, spoke at the meeting. Originally, their presentation was set for the public comments portion, but the students were informed they would be added to the agenda 10 minutes before the meeting began.

“It felt nice to go up there and show them what we came up with and ask them to cooperate with us and reach our goal of having a sustainable Earth for future generations,” Kim said.

Being able to speak to the city council signaled that they had the power to make a difference, even if it isn’t on a national scale.

“You can yell at a wall for so long, but once you are in front of a city … you can see big action,” Wothe said. “The grassroots on the city level is where it is at. It not only made us feel important, but it made us feel heard by the community as a whole – the community that is closest to you is taking that action and can hear you.”

While young, they noted that they are still members of the community, and their ties run deep.

“I grew up with two of the sons of the city council members,” Wothe said. “I smiled at them, they knew me by name. One of them even texted my parents during the middle of it.”

Age, which can be used to shut down certain voices, instead gives them special bargaining power through a different perspective.
“We are going to be on this planet for maybe 50 more years,” Yuanxi Kuang said. “We are going to be around to see the effects of what we do today. I think it is important that we step up. We can make its shape.”

“The climate issue is not something you can resolve in a few years,” Kim added. “We have to grow, step by step. I think that is why younger generations are very important. Statistically, we have a few more years on us. We can use it to our benefit.”

iMatter acts as a conduit for matching passion with action, even for those who have been passionate their whole lives.

“I grew up with environmentalism. It was a deep aspect of my upbringing,” Eastaug said. “My family has three compost containers in our background. It was such a normalized thing for me as a kid. Coming into middle school and high school, it was more of a shock that people didn’t care. I started joining all these groups to get people to care – and it is really hard.”

Of all the statements made by their iMatter peers, agreement over the difficulty of persuading people to care got the strongest reaction.
“What you are asking of people is to change their daily routines,” Emma Hutson said. “How much they drive their car, how much they bike, what they are eating, what they are consuming, what energy source they are deciding to consume … it is a people issue. It is so hard.”
Wothe said that after their presentation to the city council, one woman mentioned that she was invigorated by their
passion.

“She said, ‘We have to get involved now. We have to do something.’ I think that is the great part about what youth can do,” Wothe said. “It is hard to make people change. But for kids to say, ‘That’s my future …’ makes people want to get involved and stay involved.”
The next step for the group is to follow up with the city council to approve their resolution, which should boost its overall grade.
“We just want to work with them,” Eastaugh said. “Our goal to this wasn’t to tell them they were doing something wrong. We want to work together to be apart of this change. [The] goal is to … how we can reach of net zero by 2040?”
And, the resolution is not the only way they can effect climate change.

With the Comprehensive Plan for Edina due to the Metropolitan Council in 2018, the group hopes to adopt changes that can be incorporated for the 10-year plan for the city.

The changing of the guard of the Edina superintendent and Edina High School principal offers two other opportunities to send a message that the school district is serious about sustainability.

“Now is not the time to decide whether climate change does or does not happen or does or does not exist,” Emma Hutson said. “It is about solutions.”