Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action advocates Kaushik Tota, Radhika Agarwal and Peri Plantenberg are still in high school, but their climate change activism is making ‘clean energy’ waves across the Bay Area! Their team is spearheading climate change reform and has successfully influenced environmental policy in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Cupertino, for starters.
Reach Codes mean anything to you? Listen to why these committed young climate change advocates are driving reform to safeguard the environment, and standing up for their future before it’s too late.
Kaushik Tota suggests “If you are interested in joining a youth-led environmental initiative, options run the gamut from community engagement to policy advocacy. The Climate Youth Ambassador Program is a youth-led environmental education organization that aims to equip individuals (especially children) with resources and knowledge to lead sustainable lifestyles. Organizations such as Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action and the Youth Public Policy Institute (both of which I’m a member of) are working on all sorts of climate policies with varying scopes—you can join an existing city team or advocacy team, or start a new team if one doesn’t exist yet.”
Meera Kymal & Anjana Nagarajan Butaney produce the climate change podcast ‘Our Climate is Changing, Why Aren’t We?’ at DesiCollective.
Unfortunately, the state of California got a dismal C.
The Scorecard is a comprehensive analysis of where the state’s leaders stand on the environment and climate change.
Kalra was named Nature Defender by CLVC for championing AB 3030 in the state assembly, to preserve biodiversity and access to nature. He was recognized as “someone the environmental community can always count on to be the progressive leader and environmental champion that California needs.”
Kalra’s track record supporting a range of environmental bills on the assembly floor (buffer zoners for oil and gas safety, clean cars, and transparency within the Department of Toxic Substances Control), earned a 100% rating for two consecutive years (2017 and 2018), and a 99% in 2019.
Most recently he co-authored AB 1289, with Assemblymember Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), to help smaller family farms stay in business by transitioning from animal agriculture to sustainable plant-based agriculture.
Kalra stated that CLCV was his ‘go-to group “ for environmental leadership because they were helping combat the climate crisis with new, innovative proposals designed “to strengthen clean air and water for our communities.”
Mary Creasman, CLCV CEO, said that though California had a reputation for being progressive, 2020 was largely a year of ‘climate change inaction.’
Only 11 (nine Assemblymembers and two Senators) out of 120 legislators scored 100%.
Governor Gavin Newsom earned a score of 87% despite California’s poor track record on climate change initiatives last year, only because he issued executive orders at the year end to conserve biodiversity and boost climate resilience
CLVC said that the climate crisis took a back seat in Sacramento last year. For the first time, the annual Scorecard revealed that 70% of the California Legislature accepted campaign contributions from oil companies and major oil industry Political Action Committees (PACs). According to their analysis, 60% of Democrats and 100% of Republicans took these dollars.
Even though Kalra and a small band of legislators fought for climate justice, they failed to convince a majority in the legislature to pass bold policies. In reality, corporate interests are still calling the shots in Sacramento when it comes to the environment and public health, added Creasman.
“Corporate polluters continue to have an outsized impact on policy in Sacramento.”
With less than nine years left to address the most severe impacts of climate change, the California League of Conservation Voters is calling for renewed action in Sacramento and, in particular, the development of a comprehensive climate action plan for the state.
Mike Young, Political and Organizing Director at CLCV urged the Governor and the legislature to work together to renew their focus on the climate crisis. He pointed them to the Biden Administration’s climate action plan, with justice, jobs and public health at its center, nothing that “We need a vision for the future that centers the health and safety of Californians.”
CLVC called for California to create a clear climate action plan of its own, because “the country and the world is looking to California for leadership.”
California’s Overall Score: 74%
Governor Newsom’s Score: 87%
Assembly Overall Average Score: 71%
Senate Overall Average Score: 73%
Meera Kymal is a Contributing Editor at India Currents
At the Front Door – a column on climate change in our lives
Nearly two years ago, Greta Thunberg declared that “our house is on fire” at the World Economic Forum. She wasn’t the only one who saw that fire.
Here in California, we could see the flames quite literally. As wildfires tore through the state, many teenagers felt a fire light in ourselves as well. We decided that it was time to stand up for our futures, just as Greta had done a continent and an ocean away from us. We began to show our fire wherever we went—in our homes, on the streets, in front of the offices of legislatures.
But some of us wanted to take things one step further: we wanted to put the fire right in front of elected officials’ eyes.
For the past two years, this is exactly what I’ve done as an environmental policy advocate. My team and I draft and support sustainable legislation from the local to state level, pushing elected officials to opt for the most aggressive and far-reaching policy solutions.
Being a teenager in the advocacy space has its upsides and its downsides. As youth, we get significantly more attention than our adult counterparts for participating in the political process, and our presence is noted. On the other hand, we’re sometimes written off as just “kids” who don’t understand the full scope of the issues at hand. This happened a lot during our earlier efforts. But we kept attending meetings and applying pressure.
Over time, fellow teenagers and young adults joined our cause, increasing our numbers at meetings. Our advocacy groups became larger and more robust, and we gained new perspectives and ideas through the diversity of our members. Thanks to the guidance of gracious mentors and elected officials, we became more knowledgeable on pertinent topics, conducting intra-organization workshops and study sessions to become more effective advocates.
Building credibility takes time, but after nearly two years of vocal involvement in policy advocacy, I’m proud to say that many more elected officials are taking the opinions of youth seriously as a result of the influx of students into the climate policy advocacy movement.
Since we began our efforts, we’ve successfully advocated for sustainable policies from the local to the state level, encouraging the adoption of legislation ranging from building electrification codes (“reach codes,” as they’re often called) in Cupertino, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale, to state policies such as AB 841, which has deployed vital resources for accelerating the development of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in the state of California.
Our advocacy process involves multiple steps aimed to help educate advocates and enable them to create an impact in their communities. Rather than forcing advocates to trudge through endless pages of policy lingo and close-to-meaningless tables and figures, we find resources such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, and brochures that provide a high-level overview of what a certain policy entails. Then, we parse the language of specific parts of the policy to find weak points which we would like to see improved.
Based on the weaknesses we find, we draft a counterproposal, which we then cross-reference with other local advocacy organizations such as the Sierra Club and 350.org to ensure that our interpretations of the policy are correct. After constructing this “game plan” of asks, we begin drafting advocacy letters and public comments, which we send to city councils and present at official city meetings, respectively. Through well-informed and reasonable policy recommendations, repeated involvement in the political process, and strength in numbers, our advocacy teams are able to affect meaningful change in the final legislation which is passed.
For example, with regards to the aforementioned building electrification codes (which I helped advocate for in Sunnyvale), our advocacy team focused on two major asks: increasing electric vehicle readiness in Sunnyvale and eliminating exceptions allowing the installation of natural gas-powered appliances in certain types of buildings. By speaking at three different city meetings—the Planning Commission (which handles land use and development), the Sustainability Commission (which deals with matters pertaining to the environment and Sunnyvale’s Climate Action Plan), and the City Council—we were able to influence city staff to integrate our recommendations into the final language of the reach codes.
Now, EV readiness standards in Sunnyvale surpass that of calGREEN (California’s statewide building codes) and exceptions that once existed for nonresidential kitchens have been converted to a case-by-case system (meaning that no restaurants can simply use a gas-powered stove because they feel like it). The increased rigor of these components of Sunnyvale’s reach codes will go a long way in improving EV adoption rates and reducing the city’s greenhouse gas emissions over the long term.
The task of addressing climate change is daunting at first glance, but with so many passionate youths involved, what seems like an insurmountable challenge suddenly becomes feasible. The support of like-minded peers pushes us to keep attending meetings, writing advocacy letters, and taking a stand for our planet.
If you are interested in joining a youth-led environmental initiative, options run the gamut from community engagement to policy advocacy. The Climate Youth Ambassador Program is a youth-led environmental education organization that aims to equip individuals (especially children) with resources and knowledge to lead sustainable lifestyles. Organizations such as Silicon Valley Youth Climate Action and the Youth Public Policy Institute (both of which I’m a member of) are working on all sorts of climate policies with varying scopes—you can join an existing city team or advocacy team, or start a new team if one doesn’t exist yet.
And if none of these suit your interests, no worries! Find some friends or classmates who have similar interests to you and start your own initiative. In today’s climate, there are more outlets than ever for youth to share their voices, and what’s most important is finding your niche and leveraging your passions to enact impactful climate action.
We know that we have once chance to put out this fire, so we want to make sure we do it right.
Kaushik Tota, a senior at Saint Francis High School in Mountain View uses a three-pronged approach of innovative technology, community awareness, and sustainable policy, to help solve the planet’s most pressing sustainability challenges.
Edited by Meera Kymal, Contributing Editor at India Currents.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – The National Park Service, the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, and the Presidio Trust launched the planning and public engagement process for a multi-year effort to revitalize the Crissy Field area of the Presidio. With a growing urban population, unique natural and cultural features, and a changing bay environment, the next chapter of the much-beloved Crissy Field begins. The project, named HYPERLINK “http://www.nps.gov/goga/crissyfieldnext.htm” Crissy Field Next, is especially focused on gathering input and ideas from existing as well as new audiences to create an inclusive, welcoming space for all communities.
“We’re excited to be taking the widely popular Crissy Field to another level through improved services and better maintenance for all of our communities to enjoy,” said Laura Joss, Golden Gate National Recreation Area General Superintendent.
The National Park Service and the Parks Conservancy began transforming Crissy Field in 1998 from an army airfield into the first visitor destination within the Presidio, a national park site. A few years later, the Presidio Trust began developing the buildings along Mason Street, welcoming in visitor-serving park tenants – and now is working in partnership with the Park Conservancy and the NPS on the Presidio Tunnel Tops, connecting the Main Post of the Presidio to Crissy Field. Now, nearly 20 years after its restoration, parts of Crissy Field are in need of repair and rehabilitation, while other areas may not be used to their full potential. Crissy Field Next offers an opportunity to make improvements to Crissy Field so that all visitors are able to enjoy and connect with this location in the park. There may be new features, while the sense of tranquility and history that makes it such a special place will always be preserved.
“When we began the transformation of Crissy Field 20 years ago, we knew it was a special place worth saving, but what we didn’t realize was how important a role Crissy Field would play for San Francisco residents and visitors alike,” remarked Greg Moore, Parks Conservancy President & CEO.
“We are excited to champion Crissy Field in its next chapter, and hope through this process that we come up with more ways to connect visitors with this beloved bayfront area and the rest of the 1500- acre Presidio,” said Jean Fraser, CEO of the Presidio Trust.
Crissy Field Next has five project goals to address in six topic areas: community, recreation, access and safety, ecology, history, and sustainability. Goals include: To connect with the community by creating an inclusive, welcoming space that’s accessible and easy to enjoy. To add more opportunities for recreation, renewal, and reflection — a visitor experience worth a day trip or more. To improve access and safety for Crissy Field visitors, with smoother traffic flow, practical parking options, and safer ways for pedestrians and bicyclists to travel. To preserve and enhance the value of the ecology and history of Crissy Field, with educational opportunities and insights that respect the richness of the place. The ultimate goal is to create a sustainable, well-designed space that’s durable, flexible, and easy to maintain in the decades to come and is inviting to current and new audiences. As part of the planning and public engagement process, the project team and partners are inviting our communities to a special family-friendly kick-off event for Crissy Field Next. This day will invite current and new community members to learn more about the unique areas within Crissy Field and provide ideas and input on what they want to see next in each area. There will also be a representative from the Tunnel Tops project – which will add 14-acres of new national parkland over the freeway tunnels – to provide important information on how the two projects are connected in making a new Presidio visitor experience.
Crissy Field Day will be held on Saturday, October 20, from 11 am- 2 pm, at Crissy Field East Beach (1199 East Beach, San Francisco, CA). This family-friendly event will have hands-on crafts and science fun, live music, and free gifts.
About the National Park Service The National Park Service (NPS) is a federal agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior charged with managing the preservation and public use of America’s most significant natural, scenic, historic, and cultural treasures. The NPS manages the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, as well as 417 other park sites across the U.S. For more information, visit nps.gov/goga. About Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy
The Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy is the nonprofit membership organization that supports the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—one of the most-visited units in the national park system in the U.S. Since 1981, the Parks Conservancy has provided over $500 million of support to site transformations, habitat restorations, research and conservation, volunteer and youth engagement, and interpretive and educational programs. Learn more at parksconservancy.org or call (415) 561-3000.
About the Presidio Trust The Presidio Trust is a federal agency that manages the Presidio of San Francisco, a national park at the heart of the 82,000-acre Golden Gate National Recreation Area. In partnership with the National Park Service and the non-profit Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, the Presidio Trust brings alive the park’s historic, natural, and recreational assets for the inspiration, education, health, and enjoyment of all people at no cost to taxpayers. Learn more at www.presidio.gov