Students and Staff Plant Awareness to Celebrate Earth Day

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Graphic by Krisha Konchadi

The effects of climate change will become irreversible by 2030 unless drastic measures are taken to protect the planet, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “I feel like every day should be Earth Day. It’s important to recognize just how precious the planet that we live on is,” science teacher Michael Tang said. “There’s nothing like it. As of now, we don’t know of any planet that’s habitable like ours, and so it’s very important for us to learn and to remember that we need to be good stewards of the Earth.”

From the rapidly-worsening air quality in major cities to recent Silverado fires in Orange County, people across the globe have been impacted by the devastating effects of climate change. But on April 22, communities — including those at Portola High — once again came together to commemorate Earth Day by raising awareness of environmental issues.

Junior Saachi Raju is the global director of Crossroads Initiative, a student-led organization dedicated to gathering stories from people around the world and broadening their audience’s perspectives. 

Crossroads Initiative released a podcast episode on April 25 through Spotify featuring youth climate advocate Mitzi Jonelle Tan, who discussed climate issues in the Philippines and the challenges that come with being an activist. Tan was chosen because she provided a global perspective, and Crossroads Initiative members felt that her young age would better help their audience relate to her, according to Raju.

I also hope that people realize that Earth Day is not only about appreciating the Earth, but also being aware of the things that we are doing that are actually negatively affecting the Earth.”

— Katherine Chang

“We just wanted people around our community to know that you can take action even when you’re young and even when you’re just a high-schooler or even younger,” Raju said. “It’s really important to take initiatives, whether that be cleaning up your own trash, staying conscious of littering and trying to get more involved in environment-related organizations, whether that be joining them or spreading awareness like we did with this podcast.”

While Raju has been working with an international representative, sophomore Katherine Chang, a member of the Animal and Environmental Protection Club, has kept her focus local. The AEPC collaborates frequently with grassroots environmental group Citizens’ Climate Lobby, and Chang is leading a local chapter of the organization’s wildlife action team. 

Through her efforts to pass environmental legislation by communicating with Congress members, Chang said she has learned there is strength in numbers when it comes to activism.

“We really must start paying attention to our actions and how we are negatively affecting our environment,” Chang said. “You can make personal changes in your life to help the environment, but in order to make big changes in your community you’re really going to have to have a group of passionate people to do that.”

For Earth Day, the AEPC posted an announcement on their Instagram page (@phs.aepc), informing their followers on steps that they could take to help the environment. They also included information about Earth Day activities hosted by the City of Irvine — like a virtual composting workshop and water-recycling plant tour — that were free to participate in.

“We decided to look at it from a simpler point of view because most of our account is policy, and we break down a lot of the recent local and federal legislation. So with this post, we just wanted to give some quick tips,” junior and AEPC president Emily Nguyen said. “I just wanted to focus on energy consumption, water consumption, quick things that you can do that make a difference.”

It’s really important to take initiatives, whether that be cleaning up your own trash, staying conscious of littering and trying to get more involved in environment-related organizations, whether that be joining them or spreading awareness like we did with this podcast.”

— Saachi Raju

As for statewide high school curriculum, the topic of Earth science is currently taught in freshmen, sophomore and junior years due to a recent national science content reform called Next Generation Science Standards. In his chemistry class, science teacher Michael Tang uses the concept of energy conservation to teach his students about ways to take sustainable steps in their own lives, such as reducing personal electricity use or water waste.

“There’s some Earth science in every year of high school, and we’re touching upon those issues about climate change and the environment every year of high school,” Tang said. “These resources that we’re using and that we’re consuming every day, it actually goes away. A lot of it goes into a landfill, so just take extra steps to try to change some of our basic patterns.”

While more people are beginning to recognize the urgency of environmental issues — the number of U.S. adults who believe that dealing with global climate change should be a top priority for the federal government has risen from 41% in 2008 to 64% in 2020, according to a study by the Pew Research Center — many are hesitant to engage in environmental activism.

“This Earth Day, I definitely noticed a lot more awareness of it like over social media. A lot of my friends were posting videos saying ‘Happy Earth Day.’ It really makes me happy to see people actually being aware of the holiday,” Chang said. “But I also hope that people realize that Earth Day is not only about appreciating the Earth, but also being aware of the things that we are doing that are actually negatively affecting the Earth.”