Over the last few weeks a number of Newton middle school teachers and students have contacted me to speak—sometimes to whole classes and other times to just a small group of students—about what Newton is doing to address climate change. Students in the middle schools are studying the United Nations 17 Global Goals, one of which is on “sustainable cities and communities” and another on “climate action.”

In speaking to these students, I have been struck—but not surprised—by the extent to which they think that recycling is the best/only thing they can do to address climate change. I’ve talked to them about Newton’s Climate Action Plan, and why it’s titled “Use Less, Green the Rest.” I’ve explained “use less,” specifically in the context of what kids their age can do, e.g., turn off the lights and electronics, walk or bike, buy less stuff, eat less meat, urge their parents to buy an EV as their next car, etc. I think they’ve been surprised to hear both that recycling is not the only action they can take to address climate change, or even the most important one, and that we need to use more electricity in lieu of heating oil, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel.

I’ve suggested to each group that they make a list of climate actions they and their peers can take, and circulate it in their school by putting it in the school newspaper, including it in public announcements, etc.

I’ve talked to these kids in the context of their school projects, but some of them are clearly passionate about these issues. As an aside…. During the worst of Covid, I did a weekly Zoom class with my then 11-year-old grandson, Nathaniel, on a number of topics, including several sessions on climate change. It was clear just from talking with him that kids need to hear about solutions, not only about impending doom.

Ann Berwick is the City of Newton’s Co-Director of Sustainability.