Hanover’s Climate Action Plan: Striving for Sustainability

The Hanover High School Climate Action Plan (CAP), the only climate plan for a high school in the US, aims to reduce our carbon footprint to 77% percent of the 2016-17 footprint by 2050. This is an ambitious and difficult task, shown by the huge amounts of work that Jeannie and Hannah Kornfeld, the Earth Systems classes of 2017-19, and many others put in to create and implement the plan. Despite some complications due to COVID-19, HHS is on track to reach the 2025 goal of a 6% reduction, according to Ms. Kornfeld. 

There are 22 specific emission reduction measures outlined in the plan, but the most impactful by far is the purchase of sustainable wood chips for heating. A small group of Environmental Club members has been meeting with an energy consultant to write a request for proposals from local, sustainable, foresters who can meet our demand. This RFP is now finished and has been given to Buildings and Grounds to be sent out to bidders. The CAP is continually being edited and expanded, and soon there will be a new long-term goal of switching away from wood products completely, instead generating heat using solar power generated on site. Harvesting wood from New England forests compromises the integrity of the forest, negatively affecting the ecosystem, as well as its ability to store carbon in the future, as trees that are older than 50 take up carbon at a far greater rate.

Later this spring the RFP team will present some proposals to the Climate Action Plan Implementation Team. This group is made up of about twenty students, teachers, school board members, and community members who meet twice a year to implement the climate action plan.

The Environmental Justice Committee, led by Vidushi Sharma, has been working on edits to the climate action plan to include equity and environmental justice since the summer. Third year law students Jameson Davis and Arielle King, our Martin Luther King day speakers from 2019, are advising this process. Most of the changes to the plan are about “owning it,” says Kornfeld, “acknowledging what we’ve done here that has contributed to environmental racism.” This team is also making sure that the plan does not negatively affect other areas while improving ours. For example, buying solar panels may have adverse impacts on the places where the materials are mined and the panels are assembled, which are mostly in BIPOC or low income communities. For every reduction measure, all these effects need to be considered, and the team has to decide whether the emission reduction offsets the detrimental consequences, and create alternative mitigation measures to address the disproportionate harm. 

The second most impactful emission reduction measure, after the purchase of certified sustainable wood chips, is the use of renewable diesel in school buses. Using biodiesel made of soaps, oils, beauty products, and alcohols would also allow for these materials to be repurposed rather than thrown away. Building energy (which is mainly heating) accounted for 45% of HHS’s 2016 emissions, the largest percentage of any sector measured in the CAP. But school buses, student commute, and employee commute lumped together make up 54% of emissions, with 24%, 13%, and 17% respectively. There are many emissions reduction measures aimed at these sectors, such as the aforementioned biofuel buses, electric vehicle charging stations, a bike shelter, a more efficient bus system, and incentives for students to carpool – which might include free parking!

The HHS CAP aims to align with New Hampshire’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, as recommended by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to avoid a 2 degree increase in temperature, but if individual students and teachers are willing to slightly alter their lifestyles we can reach our reduction goals faster, and maybe even become carbon neutral. This would be an incredibly difficult task, but if the entire country of France (which clearly has many more people than HHS) can do it, why can’t we?

The most important step is education, claims Kornfeld, because many people just don’t know how their actions affect the environment. Only 20% of the food waste in HHS goes into the compost, which she says is not because people don’t care, but because they don’t think about why we have to compost. She hopes that with more environmental education students will be more likely to walk to school, eat lower on the food chain, consume less, and be mindful of how they spend their money, because “for young people, their dollars are their voting tickets.” Though not a part of the Climate Action Plan, Kornfeld has been advocating for “educating for sustainability,” which would integrate sustainability education into all subjects. New Jersey has already passed legislation to require climate education, and a student group in Massachusetts (Youth CAN’s Massachusetts Education for Sustainability Campaign) is very close to achieving the same. HHS’s environmental club is connecting with the Massachusetts group to see how to create something like this in New Hampshire, and to help them with a Climate Action Plan for their school.

We have a long way to go, but Kornfeld believes that we can achieve our goals demonstrated and is proud of “the student’s commitment to implementing the CAP and their ability to get things done.”


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