“Young people are the radical answer to the climate crisis that we have been searching for,” 16-year-old climate activist Ollie Perrault told students during her visit to NMH as part of a day-long Climate Action Teach-in.
The teach-in, held on April 21, was an opportunity for all academic classes to focus on climate action, youth empowerment, climate justice, and food systems and was a cornerstone of Climate Action Week, spearheaded by the NMH Ecoleaders. The teach-in included workshops led by students and guest speakers, such as Perrault, as well as alumni Rob Werner ’79, New Hampshire state director for the League of Conservation Voters, and Nancy Hirshberg ’77, principal architect of yogurt maker Stonyfield Farm's corporate sustainability and agricultural programs.
NMH Ecoleader Sasha Kracauer ’23 said the goal of Climate Action Week was to “merge education and the environment. It’s about giving young people the tools we need to reform the system, the policies, the rigid power structure that perpetuates our global crisis. Education is the place to start — it is the progenitor of change.”
Perrault, who grew up on a farm in nearby Easthampton, Massachusetts, was just 11 years old when she got involved in the Massachusetts Youth Climate Leadership Program, which builds climate literacy, meaningful connections, and equitable community climate solutions. She went on to found and serve as director of Youth Climate Action Now, which organizes events to empower young people to become leaders in climate action.
“It’s only right that we, as young people, should play a role,” she said. “We have grown up in a world on fire and we no longer have the luxury to sit back and do nothing.”
Perrault became curious about the climate after seeing how severe weather in recent years, such as heavy rains and flooding, affected her family’s farm. Her curiosity quickly turned to anger over the inadequate response to the climate crisis from governments and industry. Perrault transformed her anger into action and hopes to inspire other young people to become part of a growing movement to effect systematic changes to combat the negative effects of climate change.
“This is such a big issue, and it’s so easy to feel hopeless,” she said. “We’re just kids. We’re not scientists, we’re not politicians — yet.
“The number one roadblock to change is apathy, but the antidote to apathy is community building,” she continued. “Each and every one of you has a voice and a role in combating climate change and taking action. The only requirement is to care.”
In November 2022, Perrault received the Heroes Among Us Award from then-Massachusetts Gov.-elect Maura Healey.
During the NMH teach-in, many classes were held outdoors. Students in the new Farm Semester Program led tours of the farm for students in Nhu Gonzalez’s chemistry class, explaining the role of chemical reactions in farming, from fertilization and composting to growing plants in a greenhouse and producing maple syrup.
Chemistry student Adam Mazur ’24 said he appreciated the connections that he and the Farm Semester students made between their two disciplines.
“Knowing chemistry can be really helpful in figuring out good ways to grow plants that would be more sustainable,” Mazur said.
In Schaufler Library, librarians Beth Ruane and Alexis Arcaro hosted an event where students in Meredith Durkee’s American Literature class edited climate-related pages in Wikipedia. “We identified articles that had been flagged as needing help improving the introductory section, including climate change in Argentina, alternative fuel, biochar (black carbon produced from biomass sources), and soil carbon,” Ruane said.
Students paired up to work collaboratively. By the end of the session, they’d published their edits to make them live to the world.
“It was a great example of the students taking skills they are learning in class — critical reading, clear writing, etc. — and applying them outside the classroom; that is, enhancing an information resource we know a significant amount of people turn to to learn about new topics, which includes climate change related issues,” Ruane said.
Art was also woven into the week. Students created sidewalk chalk art in front of the Gilder Center and painted rocks with messages about the climate that will be spread around campus. On Earth Day on April 22, Mona Seno, art teacher and chair of the visual arts department, led a workshop on creating wildflower seed bombs. NMH Dining Services served a picnic lunch outside of Alumni Hall using compostable plates and utensils, and Ecoleaders organized lawn games and booths with information about the environment. Students also had opportunities to test their Earth Day and food systems knowledge in a game of trivia, join a nature walk, and clean up trash.
Climate Action Week culminated on April 23 with a student-led Town Hall in the Blake Student Center, where students and faculty discussed topics such as coastal erosion, the economic implications of climate change, varying cultural perspectives on climate change, and differences in how states and countries are addressing the issue.
“There were some calls for NMH to take more tangible action on climate change, such as making it a part of the campus systems moving forward and helping students go out and contribute to environmental efforts happening here,”said Hazel Handy ’23, who helped organize the event.
See photos of Climate Action Week.