Student Sustainability Leaders Legislate for Climate Action

When Talulah Juniper ‘23 and Izzy Weaver ‘23 began the process of drafting a Climate Emergency Resolution for the California state legislature, they thought of it as an academic exercise…literally. As students in Nancy Metzger-Carter’s Fall 2020 Civic Engagement course, they partnered on a project to draft one of the first state-level resolutions of this kind, using examples from local and regional resolutions as inspiration and adapting to meet the needs of the state. Now, more than a year later, they are seeing their school project (now known as SCR 53) make its way through the California Senate and Assembly.

“This type of resolution, declaring an official climate emergency, has been passed in lots of communities, counties, and regions,” says Talulah. “It makes it easier to take real action. When we started working on this, no resolutions had been passed at the state level, although Hawaii recently did. California has been a leader and role model to other states on these issues, so it just makes sense that we would eventually pass one.” 

The students shared the draft of their resolution with many groups, including Native American nonprofits, teacher organizations, nonprofits for farm workers’ rights, and more. “We reached out to all the groups who will be deeply impacted by climate change,” says Izzy. “We wanted our resolution to include language that would really serve the needs of all these constituents.” After receiving some feedback, the team sent the resolution to California State Senator Mike McGuire (D), who represents the 2nd district (including most of Sonoma County). “He has had a strong history of supporting climate action, and he was very enthusiastic about it.” 

Senator McGuire met with Talulah and Izzy, as well as an elementary student from Salmon Creek school in Occidental. “We weren’t sure if we would be meeting with the senator or with one of his staffers,” says Talulah. “It was exciting to meet directly with him and to hear his enthusiasm about working with kids to make this happen.” 

After a few rounds of meetings with McGuire’s legislative director and other staffers, Izzy and Talulah were surprised last June when they received an email congratulating them. “The resolution had moved into committee!” Izzy says. “We didn’t even know it was moving to that level. It had been edited to remove a lot of the bigger actions related to banning offshore drilling, and that sort of thing, but that makes it much more likely to pass, and it was a really important step forward.”

Last week, the resolution–which can be read here–was brought to the California Senate Environmental Quality Committee for a vote. There was a virtual town hall, where Talulah had the opportunity to speak in support of the resolution. “It was kind of surreal hearing all of these people call to weigh in,” says Izzy. In the end, the committee voted unanimously to adopt the resolution. “This is the biggest hurdle to get through,” says Izzy. The next step is a vote in the Senate, and then as a concurrent resolution, to the state assembly. Izzy and Talulah have already discussed support for it with Assemblymember Jim Wood, representing Sonoma County. 

This experience has given these Student Sustainability Leaders invaluable exposure to the legislative process. “One of the coolest things is making connections with other organizations who want to do this and sharing what we know,” says Talulah. “We already have some possibilities to lead webinars and lead some training sessions. It is amazing to know that others can use our work as an example.”

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