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The Power and Impact of Voting: Environmental Panel Emphasizes Importance of Climate Action by Local Government
Rachel Freeman, communications & website manager

Colin C. '23 (far left) and Alex W. '24 (far right), along with Anjuli M. '25 (not pictured), invited San Mateo City Council candidates Sarah Fields and Adam Loraine to speak about tackling the climate crisis on the local level.

According to a 2021 Deloitte study, Generation Z named climate change and environmental issues as their top concern. Activists in this generation are working on the international and national level (Greta Thunberg is a prime example) to encourage governments and businesses to reduce carbon emissions and take other necessary measures to slow the effects of climate change. Others are focused on local and state governments, understanding that change needs to happen at all levels. It was this latter reason that motivated a trio of Nueva students to invite two local civic leaders to speak with upper school students on Nov. 2. 

When they learned that the environment would be the focus of the assembly, Student Council (STUCO) Environmental Rep Colin C. ’23, Nueva Environmental Club Co-lead Alex W. ’24, and local climate activist Anjuli M. ’25 personally reached out to two San Mateo City Council candidates—Sarah Fields (running in District 3) and Adam Loraine (running in District 5)—to invite them to Nueva to talk about about environmental initiatives in the city of San Mateo. The trio viewed these candidates as the right fit for the day's topic because they both currently serve on environmentally focused commissions in San Mateo: Sarah is on the Parks and Recreation Commission and Adam is on the Sustainability and Infrastructure Commission. 

“We thought it would be great to highlight local people who are potentially going to be making environmental policy decisions in the future,” Anjuli said. “Sarah and Adam are the two San Mateo City Council candidates who have been endorsed by a big climate nonprofit, 350 Bay Area Action.”

“One of the things I want to focus on as the STUCO environmental rep is increasing student interest and involvement in environmental events,” Colin said. “I think there’s a lack of understanding of the ways students can get involved and what the mechanisms of power in making changes are. We wanted our peers to see experts in this field and become excited about getting involved.”

In addition to a specific focus on the environment, all three students also expressed that they hoped the panel serves as a civics lesson because, Colin said, “we think a lot of people may not be aware of what the city council is and what it does.”

After introducing the two candidates, Alex and Colin alternated asking the candidates their views on a variety of topics including, “Can environmental policy be impactful at a local level and how so?” and “What is your favorite solution to the climate crisis?”

To the first question, Sarah responded that there are several things that can be done on the local level, including building electrification. To the latter, Adam shared that making cities more walkable and bikeable and less reliant on cars is his favorite local solution to the climate crisis.

Following the structured question-and-answer session, students and faculty in the audience were invited to ask their own questions of the two guests. 

Overall, Alex believes the goal of getting students talking about and interested in getting involved was achieved. 

“I think the panel went really well,” he said. “It’s important to shed light on things not taught at school, such as local government. We also wanted to be sure to highlight where the future can be in terms of environmental change and how youth can get involved.”

Anjuli, who serves on the San Mateo Youth Climate Action Team, reflected on why this issue drives her to get involved, which she hopes inspires her peers to take action, as well.

“I guess the first time I really learned about climate change was when my family would go to national parks,” she said. “I remember going into a learning center at one of the parks and there was a woman talking about climate change. I learned that the nature I was standing amongst was threatened, and that was really challenging for me to hear. I slowly realized that the way I could channel this stress was to begin lobbying and making public comment at city council meetings and sharing petitions. Over time I’ve realized the impact these actions can have and it makes me feel very empowered.”

The impact of local government came through for those in attendance. 

“This talk debunked the idea that a city can’t do much to make a difference because it’s not federal,” said sophomore Natalie L. 

Junior Selin K. echoed Natalie.

“This assembly helped put into perspective the power and impact of voting.”

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