On Feb. 11, the Board of Directors for Seattle Public Schools voted unanimously to pass a resolution committing the School District to transition to 100% clean and renewable energy by 2040, which requires eliminating all use of fossil fuels in district electricity, heating, cooling, cooking and transportation. The resolution, initiated by Board Directors Zachary DeWolf and Lisa Rivera-Smith, and developed in partnership with a coalition of students, educators, parents, and community groups, is the first of its kind passed by a school district in Washington state.
“Increasing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution have affected our communities greatly due to the poor air quality that we, as students, have been exposed to,” said Ericka G., who recently graduated from Rainier Beach High School. “However, transitioning to a 100% clean and renewable energy positively impacts the environment students are in, and it helps us learn.”
In addition to its climate impacts, fossil fuel combustion can cause respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological and other illnesses. According to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, an estimated 1,100 people in Washington die every year from the effects of air pollution. Students face unique exposure to these pollutants: students riding in diesel school buses are exposed to 23 to 46 times the cancer risk level considered significant under federal law. The burdens of air pollution are also disproportionately borne by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities and low-income communities.
“As a parent of three living in south Seattle, it is imperative that we ensure our youth not only have access to a quality education but also to a quality of life that includes clean air, clean water, healthy buildings and a future free of greenhouse gases and pollution,” said Matt Remle. “Here in south Seattle, our youth are disproportionately exposed to the harmful health impacts caused by pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. By passing this resolution, the Seattle School Board positions itself as a leader to protect the health and welfare of all its students.”
Fortunately, research has shown that school districts that reduced fossil fuel emissions saw improvements in student health and performance. Through this resolution, Seattle Public Schools has taken a crucial first step in protecting the health and safety of students, teachers and staff, as well as responding boldly to the climate crisis and helping Seattle meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.
“When Seattle Public Schools students demanded the district do its part to address the climate crisis, we heard them loud and clear and got to work on ideas,” said Seattle School Board Director Zachary DeWolf. “This collaboration not only created a pathway to a sustainable future, but it also created community in the process. Thank you to all the students, educators, families and community members for your fierce and tireless efforts to work on a solution whose impacts will be felt for generations to come.”
Transportation and buildings are currently the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in both Seattle and Washington state. Seattle Public Schools is the largest public school district in the state, with over 9 million sq. ft of buildings and a contracted fleet of over 400 school buses.
“We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest, including higher peak temperatures, increased wildfire smoke, sea-level rise and more. By making this commitment, Seattle Public Schools is emerging as a leader in helping Seattle meet its climate goals of net-zero carbon citywide by 2050,” said Deepa Sivarajan, Washington Policy Manager at Climate Solutions. “We hope this will serve as a great example for other school districts and local government bodies to take bold action by phasing out fossil fuels.”
A growing number of school districts across the nation are committing to move to 100% clean energy, phase out gas infrastructure, and adopt zero-emission school buses. By embracing clean electricity and energy efficiency, these proposals put schools on a path to eliminate climate pollution from their operations while improving student health and performance.
News item from the Sierra Club