Krishna Elwell is a sophomore at Monona Grove High School and the Website Editor for The Connection
Within living memory, the world has vastly changed. Across the globe, humanity faces illustrious challenges, and within the past few years, the issue of climate change has stirred the generations. To me, a 15-year-old Sophomore, the debate surrounding climate change throws my future into question as the facts become even more direr.
Should we stand aside, stronger storms shall only strengthen. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Weather Administration has found that Type 4 and 5 hurricanes are becoming increasingly likely, devastating millions across the world. Additionally, NASA has stated that sea levels are rising, due to the melting of ice caps. Seas will rise by 10-12 feet within the century, with cities such as Miami, New Orleans, or New York drowning or flooding in our children’s world. Furthermore, the story of the world’s poor and needy will only grow more desperate. According to the World Bank, 32-132 million people will be pushed into poverty directly due to climate change. As climate change wreaks havoc on agriculture in the form of floods and droughts, the effects of climate will continue to joust at the bellies of the poor and middle class alike. Finally, the CDC states that climate change affects human health and disease in numerous ways. The health effects include increased respiratory and cardiovascular disease, as well as severe injuries and deaths due to extreme weather events. Their data screams the fact that my future is at risk. It is a ceaseless caterwauling, from the media, politicians, and among the nations, all screeching that my time is ticking away; that I am powerless to save my future. Every day I ask myself if I am making a difference, every day I wonder if there is hope. I’m not a rich figurine, nor a waffling politician, but I still have my voice. In my opinion, our voices are all that we need.
I learned these facts when I was twelve years old, prophesying a horror of a future. But as a buoyant seventh grader, I was often focused on impressing my crush or winning my 200-meter race in Track & Field competitions. However, the warnings remained locked in my mind, bouncing around aimlessly and demanding to be let out. Whenever the terror of climate change came to my mind, I pushed it aside, even though I was worried that my time was running out. I had to do something, set myself free! Yet how could I do that when the assignments kept rolling in, and my crush looked so good in that dress?
The pandemic shattered my blissful existence. Embraced by a year as dark as midnight, everyone became their own fortress as the gloom of disease surrounded the globe. The world was spinning out of control, and as the masses marched on the streets, I remained sealed in my house. Every day I felt powerless, every day I longed to set myself free. Free from the walls of my house, free to live in a world where I could have a future.
On an inky, frigid evening in February, my life was forever shifted. A friend of mine texted me about an environmental organization named Dane County Youth Environmental Committee (DCYEC). A week later I found myself excitedly hopping into a virtual meeting, wondering what I would find. DCYEC is an organization comprised of high-school students from across the county, all built on the radical notion that one person can make a change in the world. Within the year I joined, we led a blazing trail. Last November, we assisted at a youth environmental conference called Glasgow to Dane County. Located in Oregon, WI, hundreds of high-school students gathered to discuss the effects of climate change, and how we could save our communities. We’ve collaborated with state and community leaders to propose change, to create a future where we could be free from climate change. DCYEC has even won an award from the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education (WAEE) for its work. If I’ve learned one thing from my work with the Dane County Youth Environmental Committee, it’s that anyone can make a difference. All you need is your voice.
I found it liberating, like a cool breeze on a scorching summer’s day. I had made peace with my conscience, and while there was still much work to do, at least I was doing my part. Yet, the journey was only beginning. In June of last year, I received an email from the Monona Grove School Board to assist with sustainability efforts within the district. The Monona Grove School District had been developing plans to install solar panels on the roof of the high school; a project that could deliver a plethora of financial and environmental benefits to the community. I took up the opportunity and soon set off upon another adventure. Monona Grove has worked hard to install solar panels on its high school. In March, cranes began to arrive on campus, raising solar panels to the roof. Within the month of May 2022, the project will be complete.
The panels will rest over 2⁄3 of the high school’s roof area. They will produce 845 Megawatt-hours of electricity per year, meeting 50% of the Monona Grove High School’s energy needs regardless of weather conditions. Interestingly, the array will be the largest on any K-12 facility in all of Wisconsin!
The project is financed in three ways, bonds, grants, and the savings made by the solar panels. Bonds are the typical way for schools to finance any initiative. The school district sells loans and will pay them back later in time, usually with interest. Furthermore, the school applied for two grants, totaling $300,000. The grants were intended to pay for a solar array similar to the size of the one that will soon be on Monona Grove High School’s roof. In short, the grant was a perfect fit for Monona’s ambitions, and the grants were awarded to the district. Bonds and grants finance approximately 50% of the project at 25% each. The remaining half of the initiative is provided by the savings that will be generated by the panels themselves. The project is cash-flow positive, meaning that we will immediately save more money than we spend by using a cheaper source of energy. The High School will save around $20,000 in the first year, and the dollars saved will enlarge every year. By conservative estimates, the project is expected to save the district a net of $1.5 million dollars over the 30-year lifetime of the array! It will save millions of dollars so that the district can improve education and make Monona a better place.
The cost of fossil fuels, which currently power the district, will undoubtedly rise over time. Yet with solar, we pay upfront and then receive free energy thereafter. The Contractor has provided a "performance guarantee,” guaranteeing a minimum level of savings regardless of any unanticipated conditions. The simple fact of the matter is that solar energy is a failsafe, fiscally responsible source of energy for our district.
Of course, the panels will deliver significant environmental benefits as well. Over the 30-year lifetime of the panels, Monona Grove will prevent the release of 31,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions and 44,000 pounds of nitrogen oxide. Both of these chemicals can cause lung disease, asthma, elevated blood pressure, and other various respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses. It’s a small yet bold step towards addressing climate change. By removing harmful emissions from the air, Monona Grove is doing its part to ensure a healthier future. This was made possible by parents, students, and community members of Monona; united, we are strong.
All of the solar panels that will soon be on the roof of Monona Grove High School were American-made. Assembled in a Hanwha Q-Cells facility in Dalton, Georgia, American manufacturing forged our plan into reality. Furthermore, the Madison-based company McKinstry is the contractor of the initiative. Our panels were planned in Monona, contracted in Madison, and built in America.
It is a revolutionary achievement, a testament to the fact that even though we are embattled, our battle can be won. I still look in the mirror, every day and wonder if I have a future. But now, I feel hope, for if this victory can happen in my home, it can happen in everyone’s. The world is very different because of climate change, and this will continue to be so. Humanity holds within its grasp the opportunity to save the world, or to end it. It’s simple to throw up our arms, and believe in the comforting notion that this is all a fantasy, that it isn’t our concern. It’s a blissful existence, far from the gripping chaos of reality. Yet even if one believes that climate change will not harm themselves, it will undoubtedly harm their children and grandchildren. For change will no longer await our choice; and as one generation passes its torch to the next, a grim burden is also ensured.
But this world is still in our hands, our future is ours to design. While debate is always critical for a balanced society, there is far more that we have in common than what divides us. It matters not where you stand, be it politically, age-wise, or racially; for together we can create a home for our children where climate change shall not make them afraid. Instead of cowering from the byproduct of industry, let us discover and employ methods to face it head-on, innovating the future. One person can make a difference in the world, one person can change their home forever. Together, we may carry our torch onward towards hope and vanquish the common challenges we face with the changing climate. You can educate yourself, explore eco-friendly options, join a climate action organization, or simply promise your children that they will live in a better world. This we can do, and so much more. Even if we cannot achieve this in a year, a decade, or a generation, we must begin now! All we need is our voice, and with it, the world starts listening.