What is Environmental Consciousness?
Published: March 16, 2022
As the climate heads toward a point of no return, what is the Francis Howell North community doing to ensure our future? With changes coming to the building and the completion of the new school, what does the future look like for students at North who are conscious of tomorrow? Climate change isn’t just limited to FHN, however. How does it affect the rest of the world? What are others in the world doing to help improve our environment?
The Causes of Environmental Climate Change
Climate change is a problem that affects everyone in the world. While there are many things that contribute to the problem, the biggest cause for this change is greenhouse gasses. There are four greenhouse gasses that greatly affect climate change: carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous-oxide and aerosols. All of these add to climate change by trapping heat in the atmosphere.
“I do think that it’s pretty obvious that data is there showing that the climate has been changing quite considerably over the last few decades, especially after the Industrial Revolution, which is when we start burning the crap out of fossil fuel,” Joe Brocksmith, a science teacher and sponsor of the Ecology Club at FHN said. “Obviously, the Earth has gone through natural cycles in the past every few million years. But just how much of an impact humans really, truly have is the hard thing to try to figure out.”
One of the greenhouse gasses that influences climate change is carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide gets released into the environment when we burn fossil fuels or when trees are cut down. Trees trap carbon dioxide so when deforestation occurs, a lot of the carbon dioxide gets released into the environment.
“As researchers have found years ago, climate change is caused by the excessive CO2 that we as humans are emitting,” sophomore and creator of sun club Hailey Zhang said.
While the earth continuously heats up, a greenhouse gas called water vapor causes the earth to heat up. Since water vapor is created from water heating up and evaporating, this gas is only causing the cycle to repeat.
“We should start thinking about things that we can do, even if it is just small things,” Ana Londono, an associate professor in Earth Sciences said. “We start to create that consciousness that we need to drive change or we will see a lot more natural disasters happening.”
The gas that is so potent it traps heat 25 times more than carbon dioxide, Methane largely contributes to climate change. Methane is usually produced by animals and agricultural activity. It can also get into the air through landfills, wastewater treatment and more.
“Any moment is a good moment to start,” Londono said. “Change starts with us in our daily activities. It starts with participating in discussions and talking with our politicians and our representatives to push for ideas that will better our climate.”
A huge contributor to climate change is nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas. Nitrous oxide is very potent being 10-15 times more potent than methane and 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Nitrous oxide is produced by the use of nitrogen-based fertilizers, sewage plants and the burning of fossil fuels and wood. Similarly, aerosols are tiny particles in the air and aerosols are a player in climate change as well since they can destroy the ozone layer. Soot is an aerosol which acts like the other greenhouse gasses in trapping in heat. Aerosols are produced by burning fossil fuels like coal petroleum wood and biofuels as well as they can be produced naturally by burning vegetation or trees giving them off.
“The global temperature is on the rise, the climate is rising,” Zhang said. “And that affects a lot of different diseases. That affects the way we live.” (Story by Ray Hathcock and Alex Wheadon)
Causes of Climate Change in Different Continents
Solutions to Climate Change
Climate change is a major world issue when most people think of the effects of climate change they think of the temperature rising. But the issue goes much deeper, it causes ice to melt, ocean temperatures to go up, carbon dioxide levels to rise, and of course the global temperature to rise. With only seven years until we pass the point of no return in terms of the climate temperature rising, finding solutions for this is very important.
“Once I started looking out for the differences in climate it became very obvious how vastly different our climate has become since I was a kid. For example I live in California and have lived there since 1986 our weather over the years has changed, our summers keep moving back into the month starts much earlier. Overall the weather has become more unpredictable, more aggressive, carbon emissions are a large factor into this and need to be stopped while it will make a difference.” Co-Founder of electric driver Sina Ghaboussi said.
One of the causes of global warming is greenhouse gasses, which is made up of smaller groups. Carbon dioxide emissions, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide and aerosols. And although this is a large problem everyone can help by changing a few simple things. On a smaller scale there’s many ways that you can decrease your carbon footprint to lessen the amount of carbon dioxide emissions you contribute to. One of the many ways is making driving more efficient. You can do this by biking, skateboarding, or walking to places more. Also just simply turning off the lights when you’re not using them helps with this.
“Companies should start designing things in a way where people think about the effect on the environment and not just the money. Theres so many things industries can be doing to help prevent emissions of greenhouse gasses,” Ghaboussi said.
Some other larger solutions to this issue would be to plant more trees and restore areas we have deforested in the past. This helps because as the trees grow they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Another greenhouse gas is water vapor, due to water nearly covering the planet we can’t control it evaporating but by implementing solutions to decrease other greenhouse gasses water vapor emissions will in turn go down.
“I think a lot of people and companies for that matter should just take a step back and look at what they’re actually doing,” Ghaboussi said, “For instance when someone eats throughout the day if you’re not counting your calories you’re not truly aware of how much you are taking in throughout the day. But if you do count your calories it gives you a benchmark and a sense of what you need to do”
Methane emissions are largely caused by landfills, and by adding a few additional steps to your day you can help limit the amount of methane released into the atmosphere. Doing simple things such as reducing your waste that would go to a landfill you can do this by reusing and refurbishing old items. Composting and using less energy also helps reduce methane emissions. Larger scaled solutions to reduce methane emissions include preventing the burning of fields after harvest, and improving the technology used to detect methane leaks at oil and gas factories.
“I think there’s a problem in business, being that their main goal is to maximize profits for shareholders, but in doing this they end up harming the environment,” Ghaboussi said.
Lastly nitrous oxide and aerosols are a factor that go towards greenhouse gasses, but you can help reduce your emissions by having open flues when using a fireplace, and using proper fuel in kerosene space heaters. By far the easiest and most important large solutions to prevent nitrous oxide and aerosol is by using fertilizer more efficiently; this means finding the correct time and amount of fertilizer to use in farms. This also means using more environmentally friendly fertilizer. By implementing one or two of these everyday solutions you can help reduce your greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to the fight against climate change. (Story by Violet Newton)
(Timeline by Chloe Ellison)
Organizations Battling Climate Change
There are many organizations that work to help spread awareness and tackle climate change. While many organizations are mainly international there are plenty located nationwide. The following are US based climate change organizations and the things they do to help the planet.
Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE) is Missouri’s independent, citizens’ environmental organization for clean water, clean air, clean energy, and a healthy environment.
EarthJustice is a non-profit organization that uses the power of the law to protect communities’ and the planet’s health. With offices across the U.S., their work has helped to save wildlands, halt destructive logging and mining, and encourage more sustainable farming policies. Their sustainable food and farming program works to improve worker safety, promote climate-friendly farming practices, and reduce pollution by factory farms.
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is a nonprofit by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Their mission being to solve the planet’s problems using science. UCS uses ‘technical analysis’ and ‘effective advocacy’ to create new, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future. The Union of Concerned Scientists also fights disinformation and explains how special interests intentionally spread misleading information on climate change.
In the beginning Sierra Club was mainly focused on the conservation of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. Now the organization works to advance climate solutions and make sure everyone lives in a healthy environment with clean air and water. The organization is mainly a national community of volunteers, advocates, and grassroots activists.
In 2014 One Tree Planted was created by Matt Hill as a non-profit in Shelburne, Vermont. This non-profit’s main goal is to make it easier for businesses and individuals to give back and help restoration efforts. They make this possible by planting a tree for every dollar donated. As of now this organization has planted over 40 million trees in more than 43 countries across the globe since their start in 2014. (Story by Morgan Chairs)
Listen to Sophie Watterson from MCE talk her views on environmental consciousness:
Ameren Set to Open New Solar Facility
There has been a global goal to get involved in the battle against climate change, whether it be through recycling, composting, or switching to electric
cars. But it’s not only the average person who is trying to make a change, larger companies have started to implement plans to better the environment.
An energy company located in both Missouri and Illinois known as Ameren has been committed to making a change. They are currently working on a plan in order to switch to using 100% clean energy and have net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. While that seems like quite a long way off, Ameren has already begun to implement their plan.
“Ameren Missouri is committed to clean energy and we are really working as hard as we can to get there quickly,” Manager of Renewal and Technology Business Development for Ameren, Chad Raley said. “We are doing that while also keeping in mind that a lot of power reliability on the grid and customer rates need to remain affordable.”
To accomplish their hefty goal, Ameren has started with a few smaller projects and goals in order to meet an estimated 5,400 megawatts of renewable energy over the next 20 years. They have already started to build more clean energy plants to work towards the large goal. As well as opening the new plants, Ameren has been looking into using new technology such as the use of hydrogen and energy storage to help improve their portfolio.
“As we take coal fired generation and we retire those plants, we need to fill that gap,” Raley said. “And so a part of that can come from renewable energy, like wind and solar, and then a part of it can come from other technologies.”
We’re trying to lead the way to a clean energy future and this is just a small example of how we’re meeting some of those goals.”
— Chad Raley
Ameren offers a community solar plan that allows for residential and small business owners to use clean energy in their homes without having to build it themselves. When this plan was first offered to the public, Ameren only had small solar farms and could only allow so many people to use the clean energy power. With the great amount of interest in using clean energy, Ameren created a waitlist for customers while they expanded their solar energy intake. They did this through building a new solar panel farm.
“Right now, there’s a big waitlist,” Raley said. “So it’s growing, but we’re looking forward to expanding the program to include more customers because we’ve seen a lot of interest in this type of program.”
While it isn’t their first clean energy plant, Ameren is set to have this new energy plant open in Montgomery County in March of 2022. This plant will be the largest one yet with a size of about 30 acres, which contributes about six megawatts.
“We have more than 2,000 customers that have signed up for this site alone,” Raley said. “We actually have a waitlist of more than 700 customers even after that. So, this Montgomery County facility will meet the 2000 customers, and that’ll probably be online by the end of March.”
With relying on clean energy comes many uncertainties, such as the uncontrollable weather. Ameren has taken this into account when planning for the future and hope to ensure their reliability to customers. To do this they plan to keep the current plants open while they build the new clean energy plant. They will keep the carbon-emitting plants until they believe that they are safe to close those plants and transition to the clean energy plants without compromising reliability.
“With renewable energy, we can’t control the weather,” Raley said. “When the sun doesn’t shine, our solar facilities aren’t generating a lot of energy and for wind resources, wind power plants, we don’t control the wind. So if it’s not blowing or blowing at a time, and we really need it. This can create reliability issues for the grid. But we’re absolutely looking at maintaining that reliability that our customers have really come to expect. When someone flips on the switch to their room, they want to make sure that light comes on.” (Story by Amber Winkler)
What is Environmental Consciousness?
What is the first thing that everyone does when they wake up in the morning? Many may say something else but the true first thing is taking a breath of fresh, clean air. People often don’t realize how reliant they are on a clean environment and take for granted things like that. Unfortunately our environment is in a bad state and some of the things people do are just fuel to the fire. Fortunately, there is hope.
“The good news is that there are lots of things to do,” SLU professor Benjamin de Foy said. “Not everybody has to do everything but at the same time everybody has to do something.”
One of the problems with the environment is that there isn’t just one issue that can be pinpointed and fixed. There are many issues working together to slowly degrade the environment. Some of the biggest issues the world is facing are air pollution, climate change and water pollution. The combination of things like increased carbon emissions and greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere are causing natural disasters and weather extremes to become more prevalent. Picturing what the future looks like is not difficult as many of the future predictions that experts have made are coming true presently.
“I don’t want to paint too catastrophic of a picture but we are already seeing how in some communities and places around the world, they are experiencing the conditions we would expect to see in a few years,” Associate Professor in Earth Sciences at Lindenwood Ana Londono said.
Being environmentally conscious may seem like no easy task, but in reality all it comes down to are choices. People make choices everyday, whether it be what to have for breakfast or what song to listen to in the car. People also make choices like driving gas powered cars to work and keeping their heaters high in the winter. In some instances, choices like these are unavoidable and have to be made. However, there are choices that everyone can make to make a difference. By making those smart choices, people inherently become more environmentally conscious.
“I am an optimist and there is time but we need action promptly. Of course the sooner we start, the better. We should have started this decades ago but we are here, and this is the moment.””
— Ana Londono
Using reusable bags, turning the lights off when you leave the house and running the dishwasher instead of hand washing dishes. These are all things that many do out of habit and are all things that contribute to the betterment of environment. In order to fully understand the scope of change that needs to happen, it is important to visualize it in a three tier system: personal actions, societal actions, and hopes for the future.
The personal actions are what each and every person can do and can be as small as eating healthier locally sourced food when applicable or as large as trading in one’s gas car for an electric car. Societal actions are what everyone can work to do and those are things that can be done collectively at a local or national level. These are things like speaking with local legislators or working to get involved in an environmental organization. Finally, one has to look at their hopes for the future, and see if those actions are in agreement with caring for the earth. If those things aren’t, then one must work to think what kind of things they can do to maybe make those hopes in agreement with caring for the earth. All of these actions build off each other, but most importantly it starts with the individual and what they can be doing to start the chain of change.
“I’m not expecting everybody to become vegan overnight,” de Foy said. “But we could eat healthier, we could eat better food, we could save money and we could reduce our carbon footprint all in one go.”
The big question that may be laying heavily on some people’s mind is “what does the future look like?” One of the biggest issues that many face today is the negativity surrounding the environmental crisis. Many are led to believe that our environment has been messed up to the point of no return. Many people see the advertisements about the melting poles and the polar bears whose homes have been stripped away from them. According to de Foy “polar bears have become the poster child of climate change” and many fall into the trap of believing that the world is hopeless. While this is a harsh reality now, it is not necessarily what the future will look like. The changes people make now directly influence the future. There is always a chance and there will always be ways people can work to help the environment. By doing those things, the future of our environment will only look more and more bright.
“Your generation and younger suffer from all the stress of what our future will be and it’s very sad to see the youth feeling hopeless,” Londono said. “We should think about it in a positive way. There is still a chance but change starts with us. If everyone does a little bit, the collective does a lot.” (Story by Justin Brewer)
Education on Climate Change
A core class in school, the sciences are an imperative piece of education that students often overlook, especially when it comes to environmental sciences. Many see this and other similar classes as lesser than its counterparts like chemistry or physics. But like those classes, environmental classes can be important to better understand our changing environment. These classes will teach students ways they can help protect our environment and how they are leaving their mark on our ever-changing world.
At North, environmental science and biology are two classes that teach students about our environment. Environmental science focuses on ways that humans affect the environment and ways to help prevent the pollution of our earth. Biology focuses on the study of life and touches on the subject of our environment. Larry Scheller has been teaching biology at North for 17 years and finds the subject of environmental science to be important in his curriculum for decision making.
“I do think that learning about the environment is important because it’s something that [students] can see and will experience in their lives,” Scheller said. “They’re gonna need to know it to make important decisions as a society in the future. I think a lot of times people go into voting not actually having the knowledge they need in order to make a proper decision. So I think it’s important that they know what they’re talking about.”
Being knowledgeable about the issues surrounding our environment is important in making more informed decisions. As students moving through high school reach the voting age, information learned from environmental science classes will become critical in making educated decisions that are environmentally friendly.
As for students not yet able to vote, being knowledgeable about the problems facing our environment is important to being more environmentally conscious in the future. Sean Ireland is a junior taking environmental science taught by Joe Brocksmith. Through the class, Ireland has learned several ways in which he helps to better protect the environment.
“Personally, what I try to do is pick up things on the side of the road that I see,” Ireland said. “And I try to recycle things, If it’s a plastic bottle, for example, I’ll put it into recycling instead of just throwing it into the trash.”
Not only are students concerned with the environment, teachers around the building are passionate about helping to protect the environment. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Yvonne Kehoe, a special education English teacher at North, was head of the recycle club; an after school program which helped promote recycling around North.
“We picked up recycling, which were blue bags, so each teacher that wanted to participate, we gave them some blue bags, and that was through the city of St. Peters,” Kehoe said. “And about once a week, we went around after school recycling all that to ensure that it got into the proper recycling bin.”
Unfortunately, due to COVID, the club was shut down and has not made a return to North. Despite this, Kehoe and other students around the school remain passionate in protecting our environment. Through clubs like the Sun Club or Ecology club, the legacy of the recycle club carries on. And without classes like environmental science, students may not be able to learn about the damage being done to our environment.
“I think that [students] need to be aware that they, their children, their grandchildren, all need to share this one Earth,” Kehoe said. “I hope that they see value in saving the Earth and that they will pass it on to their family members and friends.” (Story by Mckenna Hudson)
North’s Impact on the Environment
The school has changed drastically over the last two years. With the new head principal coming to FHN next year, it is important to see how the school is currently impacting the environment to understand some of the many changes the new principal aspires to bring to FHN. Unfortunately for FHN, many of the environmental activities have been severely hindered by COVID-19.
“Some of these things have been quite affected by COVID,” Assistant Principal Jeff Blankenship said. “It just interrupted some of the things that have been done.”
A very important position affected heavily by COVID-19, are the custodians at FHN. Because of how rampant the virus has been, many people are unwilling to work as sanitation workers. This has massively impacted our current custodians by forcing them to balance between keeping the school maintained and limiting the school’s impact on the environment. Administrative Assistant Stephanie Slaughter expresses how difficult it is for the custodians.
“We are very low on custodians,” Slaughter said. “I know some evenings it is difficult for them to get the building cleaned. Adding one more thing to their plate would be very difficult for them.”
There are only three main custodians. With 1750 students and staff members at FHN, the custodians cannot do everything everyday. However, this is not the only factor currently restricting the school’s ability to help the environment. Head Principal Dr. Lucas Lammers elaborates on how important the new building can be when it comes to conserving energy.
“It’s an old building,” Lammers said. “Old buildings are inefficient when it comes to heat. The new building should be far more efficient when it is built. That’s one of the many, many reasons we needed a new building, is to have more efficiencies built in.”
The building currently has issues with vents and A/C constantly breaking. With how old the infrastructure is, the efficiency of the ventilation system has deteriorated. This requires the school to use more energy to keep it maintained, skyrocketing our carbon footprint. However, this problem will linger until the new building is completed. Previously, FHN had various clubs that worked to alleviate the school’s carbon footprint. These were clubs like the gardening club and recycling club made specifically for students to help the environment at FHN. These clubs were run by Yvonne Kehoe, an English teacher for the special education department.
“The Gardening Club kind of started an extracurricular activity,” Kehoe said. “We wanted to invite all departments to understand something about the agriculture in the area and participate in any way they could.”
Like the gardening club, the recycling club created a community around the school. Mainly with staff and teachers, blue recycling bags were placed around the building for students to collect and recycle. However, this project was postponed indefinitely.
“It was COVID,” Kehoe said. “Even though the students wore gloves every time they collected the blue bags, I still didn’t want them exposed to whatever germs might be on the recycled materials.”
That being said, if a group of students is willing to continue these clubs or have other ideas to help the environment, they always have the opportunity to create a club.
“People can start a club for any reason,” Blankenship said. “Anytime we have a group of students interested in anything, and they can’t find a sponsor, they go through the activities office and ask for what they need.”
The incoming Head Principal Jeffrey Fletcher believes in allowing students more freedom with the activities they wish to pursue and some of his plans involve the reuse of materials.
“Starting that club back up would be awesome,” Fletcher said. “I think being very conscious of making sure we’re using the materials we’re purchasing or are given to us, and reusing them and not just throwing them away.”
Fletcher is very conscious about making sure the school usage of paper is drastically reduced.
“There’s a lot of technological things that we can do,” Fletcher said. “Something I try to be very conscious about when I’m leading meetings or sending out information to students, parents, and teachers, something I would do personally is sending more of these things out electronically instead of making flyers or posters about it.”
Although the school’s capabilities to stay environmentally conscious were hindered due to COVID-19 and the building’s age, Fletcher hopes to cushion that impact and bring a new environment overall to FHN. (Story by Peter Pae)
The Dawn of Sun Club
The idea for Sun Club started in October of this school year after sophomore Hailey Zhang saw that the school’s recycling went nowhere and the school didn’t have many environmentally-friendly plans in place. She planned, found support and asked a teacher to sponsor the club she had envisioned in her mind.
“I really wanted to create a club at our school to really give people the opportunity to do something about [the climate crisis] because a lot of times, the problem is way too big for us and we feel very overwhelmed by it,” Zhang said. “We feel like we are helpless against it. And I created the club because I felt like students needed a way to, little by little, bring change to that global crisis we’re facing.”
After Zhang came up with the idea for this club that she believed the school needed, she reached out to her friend and fellow sophomore Claire Laurentius. Laurentius had experience with the agricultural aspect of environmental activism and Zhang wanted her input while coming up with a plan for this new club.
“Claire’s family owns farms and stuff,” Zhang said. “So she knows a lot about agriculture and gardening and things like that. She helps with a lot of things. I got my friends to help me with different things.”
After Zhang and Laurentius created their plan, they had to find a teacher to sponsor the club. French teacher Jenny Liberson was Zhang’s choice for who she wanted to be the sponsor for the club.
“I know a lot of teachers care about the environment, but I felt like she was the most approachable in the sense because I knew that she cared about the environment a lot and I knew that she did a lot of gardening at home,” Zhang said. “So I thought she would be the perfect teacher to help us with all the things we do and plus she gives us a lot of freedom. She doesn’t control the club at all. The club is really just a student run. And she understands that and I think that’s why I chose her because she’s a really understanding teacher.”
Currently, Sun Club is split into four committees that each have their own major projects that they are working on. The Climate Talks committee aims to reach out to the younger generations by speaking to elementary schools in our district. The Sunrise committee is working on the national movement called the Sunrise Movement, which is a youth movement that aims to make change through legislation. The Volunteering and Fundraising committee works to create volunteer opportunities for those who are interested. The last committee is the Garden committee who works to create gardens in our community and bring back the one we have in our school to use for composting.
“One committee has to do with talking to kids, the elementary schools, about the environment,” Liberson said. “Another one has to do with the Sunrise Movement, which is a nationwide thing. Another one has to do with creating a garden and composting in our school and recycling. And then another one, their goal is to create a farmers market that we can have at our school.”
While Sun Club is a new club and just starting out with their progress toward change, Zhang and Liberson are hopeful that Sun Club will be very successful in the future. They hope that they can help set FHN on the right track to be more environmentally conscious.
“I hope we make change and I hope that change is a lasting change,” Zhang said. “I really hope that people will see the change, and they feel inspired to also make more change. In the future, I just really hope sun club will be a place in which we all are working towards a common goal and really just make change.”