Student activists rally for climate action at Palo Alto council meeting

STORY BY SAMUEL STEIN, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

Palo Alto Unified School District students demanded climate action at Monday’s Palo Alto City Council meeting, urging council members to prioritize sustainability through the acceleration of S/CAP, Palo Alto’s Sustainability and Climate Action Plan. 

“We want to show the city council that even if they’re not going to take action, we’re going to do our best to convince them to, and we’re going to take action in our lives to build that future that we want to see,” said Katie Rueff, a Gunn High School junior.

S/CAP aims to decrease Palo Alto’s greenhouse gas emissions by 80% from 1990 levels through initiatives such as developing custom carbon emission reduction plans, diverting trash from landfills and reducing transportation-related emissions by increasing the number and accessibility of electric vehicle chargers. 

While the coalition of students is grateful for the ambitious goals set by S/CAP, the students believe S/CAP is currently moving through the city government too slowly and wish to ensure that these goals come to fruition by making their voices heard by their legislators and fellow residents.

“We’re trying to get this going on a regular basis, so [the] city council should expect to hear more from us,” Rueff said. “Getting our voice in the mix and getting the S/CAP process expedited are our two main goals here.”

Rueff, along with Gunn senior Saman de Silva and Castilleja sophomore Julia Zeitlin, organized this joint effort in order to push the council from “inaction.” The students praised efforts from Councilmember Alison Cormack and Vice Mayor Pat Burt with S/CAP, however, they stressed the importance of engaging residents with the changes.  

“Just put [the] word out there,” de Silva said. “Tell people that they need to be doing this if they think climate change is an issue … If the city council is really spreading awareness of that and engaging with groups, … then you decrease that gap between city council and action.”

All of the students who commented at the board meeting say they are passionate about the environment and come from a variety of backgrounds and involvement in climate justice organizations and high school environmental clubs. 

“[We are] a group of students that want other students to not feel complacent in the fight against climate change,” de Silva said. “[Climate change is] not out of our control, it’s in our hands. The ball is in our court, we have to take that power and that privilege as people with those voices and do anything we can to amplify our voices.”

The students hope that the council will take their comments at the meeting into account and approve both their goals and key actions document and 3-year work plan before the end of the year.

“Our ideation as a city is only as effective as our ability to create results with it,” de Silva said. “Policies, pilot programs and tangible conclusions are going to bring us action against climate change, not endless talk and negotiation.”

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