OPINION: Seattle Public Schools Commit to Going Fossil Fuel Free by 2040

by Rae Rose

In a landmark decision last month, Seattle Public Schools (SPS) became the first district in Washington state to commit to transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. The unanimous vote came after years of work and testimony provided by youth, SPS employees, community members, and community organizations. This will definitely spotlight SPS as a leader and role model for other districts across our state to learn from in the fight for climate solutions. 

This monumental decision will (I hope) serve as a catalyst for other districts to model and follow. United in their decision, all board members voted that the time to transition from fossil fuel dependency to clean renewable energy sources is now. The resolution, dated January 2021 and voted into action on Feb. 10, 2021, is a light of hope after an extremely hard and disheartening 2020. 

This resolution was born from a long and hard-fought, youth-led community-supported campaign. In September of 2019, students walked out to demand climate solutions. Our children around the world walked out of their classrooms to demand that we adults do better. This movement came in a wave of campaigns, environmental crises, and a desperate need for climate justice. This movement was born among the strength found in standing with Standing Rock to fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline, in fighting for the Green New Deal, and in the divestment campaigns demanding corporate banks be held responsible for their predatory and irresponsible lending practices. 

Seattle Public Schools is an exceptionally large and diverse school district with many different variables in play. No one school is the same, and our student populations vary greatly. This resolution will definitely have a tremendous impact on our South Seattle communities who are faced with disproportionate health concerns aggravated by higher pollution rates. Despite this victory, we are still too far away from climate solutions to forget the disparities found in Seattle’s poorer neighborhoods of color and their schools. 

In South Seattle, where we see some of the highest pollution rates, this is a huge step in ensuring a better future for the children we will eventually leave our planet to. SPS is a school district impacted by high levels of pollution, health disparities, and socio-economic inequality. Our children are surrounded by areas of high pollution like Georgetown’s industrial sites, Boeing airport, our Port of Seattle, and the Seattle Public Schools district itself. Being surrounded by these high pollution sites affects our children living and learning in these schools, causing disparities in health and educational outcomes. 

Kudos to Seattle Public Schools for being brave and bold enough to set an example. I am really proud of SPS for setting the stage. It is my sincere hope that SPS stays true to their promise of becoming fossil fuel free by 2040. I also encourage the other districts to follow Seattle’s example sooner than later. While this is a step to be celebrated, it is too soon to become complacent in our fight for climate solutions. We have to keep pushing districts, financial organizations, corporate America, our government, and ourselves to do better for our children and for our planet. 

In the United States, at least 81% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, according to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine. There are approximately 13,551 public school districts in the United States of America. That means there are approximately 130,930 K–12 schools educating our children. The children in these classrooms and others are the future leaders of our United States of America. For poorer schools where teachers are underpaid and overwhelmed by big classrooms, big oil companies pour millions of dollars into curriculums that push fossil fuels as the only and best solution. 

In an article posted in HEATED in March of 2020, Emily Atkin stated “classrooms can be essential breeding grounds for climate-conscious citizens. Not only do climate-educated students have lower individual carbon footprints; their behavior pressures others to behave more sustainably, too.” The fact that Resolution 2020/21-18 was demanded by students really puts Emily Atkin’s belief in a new light. 

Seattle students brought their demands to the Seattle Public Schools board, their teachers, community members, and families. Board directors Zachary DeWolf and Lisa Rivera-Smith heard these demands and pushed forward along with students, educators, parents, and community groups — the students of our beautiful Seattle Public Schools district, student family members, Seattle Public Schools board members, community members, and community organizations.

This was very much a group effort and will need to remain a group-motivated effort in the years to come. In our next steps forward, we need to continue to work together. It would be irresponsible of us to relax in this victory. I feel it is now we need to step up and increase our efforts until every school district in Washington is operating fossil fuel free.

My name is Rae Rose, and I live in the Pacific Northwest. I have always, always loved stories. I love writing, reading, listening, and imagining the words coming to life. My youth was not the happiest, and it is not an exaggeration when I say stories saved me more than once. Every story I tell carries a seed of truth: mine and of those who were not able to survive. Every story is special and personal to my heart. It is my hope that you enjoy the stories and find comfort, love, and laughter in my words.

Featured image by Alex Garland.

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