By BRENNIE DALE and JOSIAH EDWARDS
Celebrating Earth Day, the Human Rights Watch Student Task Force (STF) hosted over 150 high school students, teachers, administrators and community members for a “Human Rights and the Climate Crisis” Virtual Town Hall on April 22.
Since January, the STF chapters in Southern California have been campaigning to transition their schools, including Palisades Charter High School, to 100% renewable energy, commit to energy efficiency plans, and engage in climate justice education.
“The climate crisis is the defining issue of our generation and we are at a monumental moment,” said one STF representative. “We are protecting our human rights to life, liberty and personal security, to survival and development, and our human right to health, to clean water – and a future! We are demanding our public officials and corporations take action to protect our human rights and fight climate change.”
During the Town Hall, students representing 18 high schools shared their personal climate stories, illustrating how climate change is impacting their lives and motivating them to take action. Several students told of evacuating their homes due to raging brush fires, and how they are fearing more fires this year due to ongoing drought and hotter days. Other students spoke of asthma from exposure to urban oil drilling.
STF leaders also described how they are using HRW’s methodology of “Investigate, Expose, Change” to guide their advocacy as they engage with school administrators.
Featured speaker, Christos Chrysiliou, LAUSD’s Director of Architectural and Engineering Services for the Facilities Division, discussed the steps LAUSD has taken to increase its energy and water efficiency, improve sustainability, and engage students in the decision-making process. “We cannot achieve all the things that we’re doing without your [students’] help…We need to have you in the process,” Mr. Chrysiliou said.
Everyone left the Zoom event with the same sense of urgency that youth feel world-wide about the climate crisis. As the closing speaker, STF PaliHI senior Nathalia Wyss remarked, borrowing from Greta Thunberg: “Act like your house is on fire, because it is – continue to take action against climate change and inform others, and please, keep fighting to turn our schools green.”
Pali STF members are currently promoting a petition to support committing PaliHi to 100% clean renewable energy, energy efficiency and focus on environmental justice and equity by 2025. The petition is being circulated virtually to classmates and to the community. They invite support: Click here.
(Editor’s Note: The Human Rights Watch Student Task Force (HRW STF) is a Los Angeles-based youth leadership-training program that brings together high school students from Southern California and empowers them to advocate for the human rights of children. HRW STF staff and STF teachers partner to mentor students in leadership skills and activism, enabling them to become effective voices for change and social justice.)