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Fueling NSHS: Can we change climate change?

By Gabriel Schneider
Published: December 2009

The joke is that a breakthrough in renewable energy is only 30 years away– and will always be only 30 years away.

Unfortunately, our eco-system can simply no longer wait that long. From December 7–18, global leaders from around the world met in Copenhagen for the United Nation’s Framework Convention on Climate Change to discuss a plan of action for the coming years.

Though little binding legislation was produced, the conference was successful in that it set a global agenda: to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius. Of the issues facing world leaders in Copenhagen, energy supply, transportation, industry, agriculture and deforestation were among the most pressing topics in the challenge to mitigate carbon emissions.

Though much forward progress has been made on a national and international scale, however, the truth is that real change must start at home.

Over the past ten years, Newton South has become much more conscious of its energy output. While a lot of progress has been made, however, there is still a lot of work to be done.

In 2003, with funding from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative’s Solar to Market Initiative, the city of Newton’s “SUNERGY program, initiated by former Mayor David Cohen, installed solar electric panels on the roof of Newton South.

“It is obvious to me that our current energy situation is unsustainable in so many ways – economically, environmentally, and politically. But I am heartened by the fact that there is a viable alternative and that we in Newton can lead the way, said Cohen in 2003.

“While it will provide an impressive amount of clean energy, it will also be a great educational tool. And the array at the library will have an educational kiosk so that we all be able to learn more about the benefits of solar energy.

Clearly, this was not the case. Since the solar panels are presently out of use, they serve little to no functional purpose.

That being said, Newton South still utilizes many energy efficient technologies. According to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, Newton South uses “daylighting sensors that dim lights when adequate ambient light is present, occupancy sensors that turn lights off when rooms are not in use, a rainwater collection system that recycles rainwater for toilet flushing, and low VOC paints and sealants that improve air quality for the building occupants.

These systems, installed over five years ago, have indeed reduced the school’s carbon footprint tremendously.

Though not perfectly “green, Newton South demonstrates that energy efficiency can occur regardless of national mandate. On his website, Mayor Setti Warren describes his agenda for energy efficiency in Newton as compared to the rest of the country: “While the federal government has, for many years, abandoned its responsibility to steward our environment, many great opportunities exist for us on the city level to take up that challenge. We have the ability to make a real difference.

As Mayor, Warren promises to make government operations as “green as possible, by diversifying energy sources, expanding recycling, reducing traffic and congestion, and enhancing bus, train and bike utilization.

Principal Joel Stembridge, on the other hand, is a little more realistic. “I know that South’s been interested in being green, he said, “[but] the district is probably interested most in conserving money. It’s more about doing less rather than buying more efficient systems. In order to conserve energy, it’s going to take a system of doing less.

Stembridge explained that one effective means of saving energy is sending out information by email rather than mailing it home. “We’re trying to push for more and more electronic communication and less and less paper communication, he said.

Other forms of saving energy, such as turning off the lights, aren’t that easy. Although new lights with greater longevity have been purchased, the reality is that “this is a building that’s open all the time, Stembridge said. “The idea of turning off lights is difficult because [the building] is used so late at night.

“The most important issue, Environmental Club advisor and Science teacher Sally Rosen said, “is education and awareness about climate change, energy and our environmental impact.

When all else fails, it’s the little things that count most. “Knowing where your food is coming from and using paper trays instead of Styrofoam, are both great ways to be energy conscious, she said.

The Environmental Club has subsidized the purchase of paper trays to replace plastic in the cafeteria and plans to replace plastic silverware with corn or potato based silverware next year. “I hope students remain open to being educated about their environmental impacts, Rosen said.

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