By Hannah Dalton, contributing writer

On Friday, October 1, 2021, the Nantucket Youth Climate Committee (NYCC) made history. The group organized and led what they hope will be the first of annual walkouts to raise awareness for climate change. As students walked out of their first block classes, they prepared to advocate for and learn about the threats climate change poses to our society and generation. Members of the NYCC prepared statements, essays, poems, and signs to educate their peers and demonstrate their strong beliefs over this pressing matter. 

This walkout was not unique to Nantucket, but instead part of a global youth-led asynchronous movement known as “Fridays for Future”. This movement was inspired by Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teenage girl who led a group of students to protest for increased action against climate change. Thunberg and her peers spent every school day for three weeks in August of 2018 sitting outside the Swedish Parliament, fighting for this cause. They inspired students around the world to engage in similar activities, walking out of school on Fridays to protest the issue. The Fridays for Future movement even has a website where groups can register to have these events at their own schools. This is what the NYCC did for Nantucket High School. 

Students gather outside the Nantucket High School to listen to NYCC members give speeches and recite poems.

The NYCC is following the ideas of Thunberg, just on a much smaller scale. As NYCC president Sarah Swenson explained, the group is hoping to make this event an annual one, not weekly or monthly, as it would run the risk of not being “well received by administration and limit its impact”.

She explained that she is already aware of this first event not being “well-received” by some of the community. She was upset to see a backlash on Facebook from adults who complained of the hypocrisy of students living luxurious and climate-harming lives while missing school to protest climate change. The committee’s goal for this event was to educate students and begin to make a difference, not cause community members to complain that young people aren’t doing enough. As Swenson put it, “We want to raise awareness, not just make kids miss school every day”.

Swenson was pleased with the outcome of the event, though it didn’t exactly go how she and the rest of the NYCC had expected. She was surprised they received so much support, but also expressed her disappointment at the lack of microphones, worrying that this may have hindered the ability of their message to reach everyone. Luckily, Nantucket Community Television (NCTV) was able to produce a video of the event after miking the speakers. Swenson does fear that this may not reach many new people, but hopes future events can work to raise the needed awareness. 

Swenson reads from her speech on the urgency of the threat of climate change.

The Massachusetts Audubon Society, which has a branch on Nantucket, works with the NYCC. Their out-of-school advisor, Sam Kefferstan works for Mass Audubon. While this Fridays for Future event was planned quickly and didn’t involve much help from him, he assists them in organizing other events and expanding their climate change knowledge.

The NYCC began as an out-of-school group that consisted of students who teachers had recommended for their potential interest. Last year’s group all graduated except for now-president Sarah Swenson, who now works to continue their projects, raise awareness, and make necessary changes. The NYCC has since merged with the Environmental Club of the Nantucket High School, led by science teacher Ashley Erisman. They now have around thirty members of a wide range of ages, some who will soon graduate, and others with a whole four years left of high school. 

The NYCC had conducted informational meetings and events before, but these were usually attended by adults, not the young people who Nantucket will rely on to make the changes in the future. The adults who had been involved with these previous meetings are individuals who were priorly educated on climate change, or at least in support of efforts to help mitigate its effects. Swenson explained that “the most important people to reach with climate change activism are the young people who haven’t been exposed to it yet.” Young people’s minds are, supposedly, the most open to education and potentially getting on board with this issue. The NYCC hopes that with this walkout they can begin a trend of young Nantucketers caring about climate change and understanding how important it is for them to make changes. 

NYCC member Natalie Mack reads a poem about climate change.

This school year the NYCC is looking forward to educating younger students and helping with the trash disposal in the school buildings. The group is hoping to be given the opportunity to present an age-appropriate PowerPoint presentation to students at the Nantucket Lighthouse School, educating them on the threats climate change poses to their futures and giving them ideas on how to make climate positive changes in their day to day lives. They hope to eventually reach the younger students of the public schools as well because once again, they believe this age group is the easiest to persuade to make a change.

Swenson shared that they, “want to talk to whoever wants to listen, especially those who are young.” Even teaching preschool-aged children to throw their apples away in a separate container from a plastic bottle could be enough to begin a change and start a good habit. 

Swenson then addressed the trash disposal situation within the school, stating: “we do have recycling bins, every classroom has them, but they’re just not used correctly.” The NYCC also plans on addressing this issue by beginning a campaign to label trash and recycling bins with signs around the school. Swenson, reflecting on her time at the Nantucket New School, mentioned they had similar informational signs there. She believes these would be at least a little bit helpful in keeping trash and recycling separate at school. While this may sound, “elementary for high school students,” she believes it would make it “easier” for students and teachers alike to remember to recycle properly, and they would prove to be effective.

The group has also started work on a climate-related bylaw, which they hope to have included in the 2023 Town Meeting. While the details cannot yet be shared, this bylaw will be student-written, hopefully extremely successful, and will potentially make history. That is exactly what the NYCC hopes to accomplish and has already begun with the Fridays for Future walkout. They want to make history, change the future, educate and raise awareness, starting with the most important generation during the most crucial time.

(left to right) Kevin Serrano, Sarah Swenson, Wes Thornewill, Ellie Kinsella, Maile Manejit, Anna Popnikolova, and Goshi Daily hold signs and smile after the walkout

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