Junior Sarah Swenson presents at the podium. From left to right: Dylan Marks, Anna Popnikolova, Taylor Bistany, Sarah Swenson [photo by Emma]

By Taylor Bistany, contributing writer

On Tuesday, March 8th, 2022, Nantucket High School’s Environmental Club had the opportunity to present at the Whaling Museum for that week’s Food For Thought program. Five students stood in front of both a live and virtual audience. These teens created three mini-presentations with a single overarching message about how climate change can affect many aspects of their lives. 

Food For Thought is a lecture series created by the Nantucket Historical Association. Liz Schaeffer, Food For Thought program coordinator, elucidated how the program consists of topics that “have ranged from art/photography to birding to a virtual walkthrough Squam Forest, protecting our waterways, and the history of the Nantucket Lightship Basket.” This started out as a “Brown Bag” program in 2006/2007. The name came from the fact that these lectures were held around lunchtime, and the people who attended brought their lunch in their brown bags to enjoy as they watched.

However, the people who organized this program ended up changing the time slot to 5:30 through 6:30, to accommodate for the working and learning community of Nantucket. In spite of this year, these speeches are held via zoom and in-person at the Whaling Museum, every other week from February through April. Schaeffer also commented that the name, Food For Thought, is actually more of a play on words. 

One of the five presenters was Ellie Kinsella. She is a junior and the Nantucket High School’s Environmental Club’s vice president. In her presentation, she focused on the general chemistry of climate change, mainly, on ocean acidification, and how the excess carbon dioxide in the oceans proceeds to react with the ocean’s water and carbonate, forming carbonic acid. This bonding means there is less carbonate left in the water. Marine organisms that are shelled require carbonate to build their shells; it is a key building block for their shells, as it is for coral reefs. Carbon dioxide removes the carbonate from the marine organisms that are shelled. This lack of carbonate is the reason the shells of marine organisms like clams and scallops, as well as the bodies of coral, have begun to slowly dissolve.

Ellie Kinsella presents at podium. [photo by Emma]

Kinsella impressed the importance of this issue on Nantucketers. Nantucket is the last commercial wild bay scallop fishery, because all other areas have too few bay scallops to allow it. The shellfish industry is a big part of our economy, with many locals depending on it for their livelihoods. It also affects us all, because shellfish help keep the water clean, and hold together our shores, preventing or slowing down erosion.

The second presentation was created by Anna Popnikolova and Dylan Marks. Popnikolova is a sophomore, and her role in the club is outside communications, meaning that she does a lot of networking for the group. Dylan Marks is a junior and is the recruitment officer for the club.  The two of them explained how climate change influences different demographics differently. Mainly, they discussed class differences, talking about the disparate effects of climate change on the lower, middle, and upper classes.

Popnikolova for the most part focused on the idea of the demographics here on Nantucket Island. She expounded on how the sea levels rising contributes to the rise of estate costs. Additionally, she went into the idea that tourists increase the island’s carbon footprint, which is the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by an individual, organization, product, place, service, or event. Rich people tend to have larger carbon footprints because they do things like fly in planes and travel on boats—Nantucket in the summertime sees many private boats in and out of its harbor—order things from far away, and maintain heat and air conditioning for large buildings and pools. People with less money are more likely to travel less, heat or air-condition a smaller space and more conservatively, and not pay for lots of transported foreign goods.

Anna Popnikolova presents at podium. [photo by Emma]

On the other hand, Marks explained the global side of the demographics, specifically touching on the lower-income and coastal communities. While Nantucket is a coastal community, our water-front population tends to be wealthy, with the financial capability to bail themselves out. This is the reverse of the situation in most communities, where poorer individuals find themselves in flood-prone areas, and are unable to simply relocate or rebuild. Marks mainly focused on the economic and living situations that already exist, like mass dislocation of communities and water-damaged properties, as well as the situations which could arise if global warming continues on the path it is already currently on.

Dylan Marks presents at podium. [photo by Emma]

The last two presenters were Taylor Bistany and Sarah Swenson. Bistany is a freshman and the NYCC’s events coordinator. Swenson is a junior and the club’s president. Their presentation connected climate change and mental health, and to a large extent, the mental health of specifically teens and young adults. A large focus of the presentation was the topic of climate anxiety, which is a persistent feeling of stress associated with climate change. Climate change is an environmental issue, but also a psychological one, because many people feel enduring stress about its effects on the world and themselves. Climate anxiety is even recognized as a condition by the American Psychological Association. For a portion of their presentation, Swenson reflected on how global warming directly affects her and her life.

She finished her segment by explaining the way she has found to deal with climate anxiety. “Climate anxiety can be paralyzing, and stick you with this constant feeling of guilt. The one thing that I have found that truly helps, is taking action,” she explained. “However much the audience was affected by climate anxiety, I wanted to ask them to deal with it by targeting the cause, not the symptom.”

At the end of their presentation, Bistany and Swenson called on the audience to propose ideas about how they could take action in their lives to reduce the impacts of climate change. They were provided with many suggestions from their engaged audience, like alternative forms of transport, shopping locally, and reducing use of gas and electricity. The group then took questions from their audience, and responded naturally.

When the presenters were asked how they personally thought the overall presentation went, they used words such as; “very successful” and “amazingly”. Marks explained that he thought “that the people that attended were able to take something back home with them to think about, and also work on”. 

NYCC representatives wait for the presentation to begin. From left to right: Sarah Swenson, Taylor Bistany, Dylan Marks, Anna Popnikolova, Ellie Kinsella [photo by Emma]

One of the students in the live audience, Jake Kinsella, a freshman at NHS, remarked that the presentation was “extremely well presented”. He added that they broke it down in a way that was engaging and easy for the audience to understand. Other members of the audience described the presentation to be thought-provoking and, again, engaging. 

The Food For Thought lecture series, a program whose goal is to have the year-round community of the island share knowledge and experiences with its diverse population, hosted this important presentation generously. Schaeffer, Food For Thought program coordinator, explains how “we are a small island, with a complex web of issues, some unique to Nantucket, and others that are in sync with issues facing cities and communities around the world. Our aim is to educate and entertain our year-round community, through engaging lectures that reflect a diverse range of topics.”  She also described how it could be possible for the NYCC to present again next year, to “follow up” on this issue.

EDITOR NOTE: Sarah Swenson and Taylor Bistany presented on the effects of climate anxiety on their generation. Reporter Meg Woolhouse from WGBH picked up on their powerful message for their own piece on this topic. See the NYCC featured in “A ‘second pandemic’: Experts sound the alarm over eco-anxiety in young people”

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