This past summer, wildfires, floods, and extreme heat roiled the country and the world. These signals that our climate is changing can sometimes render us helpless and hopeless.
Upper School History teacher Sam Thacker recognizes how scary it is and how fear can lead to feelings of futility as well as inaction. But he also knows the power of community and how creative solutions can blossom when we work together.
“As a parent of young children and a professional educator, I’m especially concerned with the future we’re creating. What do I say to young people when they ask: What are you doing about climate change?” said Thacker. He started brainstorming with Mark Croxford, Upper School Environmental Science teacher, and Geo Decas O’Donnell in the theater department, on how they could build on GFS’ existing sustainability work and commitment.
Together with the student Environmental Action Club (EAC) and the Campus Climate Coalition (CCC), staff and other faculty members, they organized GFS’ September 8 Upper School Assembly and Sustainability Fair, emphasizing the power of embracing Active Hope as we care for and steward the earth’s beauty and resources.
The Assembly kicked off with a look at the science behind climate change. Mark Croxford used recent changes to the jet stream to illustrate how excess greenhouse gases lead to climatological anomalies such as droughts and storms.
Allen Drew, a music teacher and director of a cappella at GFS, then brought his experience as a climate organizer to bear, encouraging all to embrace Active Hope. He explained that although significant climate change has already occurred, what we all do now will have a huge impact on the course of events.
“This is the challenge of our time,” he said. “So what will we do?”
Embracing Active Hope
Both the students and faculty involved in action for climate change at GFS are encouraging Active Hope as our best way forward. This generally means understanding the current reality, processing together, squarely assessing our lives and habits, and forging ahead as a community with hope toward a just and livable future. It also means, as much as possible, not getting discouraged by what’s already transpired or thinking that what you do won’t make a difference.
“Reflect on your individual strengths and talents and then commit yourself to some kind of action,” said Thacker. At GFS, we can all tap into our connectedness. “Working together in community will serve us well and give us sustenance in our work.”
Sustainability Fair organizers brought active hope to life by exposing students to organizations in our community that are committed to positive climate action including the Hunting Park Community Solar Initiative and the Quaker group EQAT (Earth Quaker Action Team). Student leaders created activities around food, fashion, and transportation to give their fellow students ideas and resources on how to be agents of active hope.
Wearing a thrifted outfit, Lily Jensen ‘24 ran a table at the Sustainability Fair on alternatives to fast fashion, a major contributor to waste in this country and around the world.
Co-leader of the EAC, Jensen advises us all to take a look at our closets and see where we can repair, reuse, and recycle. GFS students will have the opportunity to bring any clothes they or their families don’t want to the upcoming fall clothing swap (details to come) and help reduce clothing waste.
GFS’ Sustainability Commitment
GFS Sustainability Actions:
- Conducting energy audits approximately every five years, resulting in:
- The gradual replacement of windows to be more energy-efficient
- Changing all lighting to LED
- Centralizing heating and cooling to conserve energy.
- Joining the Green Energy program and purchasing renewable energy credits
- Ensuring all renovations and new construction prioritize sustainability:
- GFS carefully stewards its Betty Cary Arboretum sustaining more than 230 unique shrubs and trees as well as new plantings across campus.
How to get involved
Sustainability plans for this semester include lunch programming, consistency in reducing plastic use, and a clothing swap.
Inspired by her Lower School Science Teacher Karen Cherubini, Fiona Abraham, ‘26, a member of CCC, first started thinking about environmental justice in elementary school. She began to research protests and “dragged her mom to them in Philly, DC and New York City.”
“Any act towards a better future counts,” she said. “Read about the science, question your norms, plant a garden, bring your own water bottle, whatever you do counts. Individual action can't solve a systemic crisis, but we can all contribute to the ongoing future of our communities.”
“Our students will enter a world that looks a lot different from the one many of us grew up in,” said Thacker. “We owe them an educational experience that looks squarely at climate change and prepares them for what they’ll be graduating into.”
- Those interested in participating in GFS’ sustainability clubs and events, can contact Elli Greenbaum ‘24 or Sam Thacker.
- The Friends Free Library has created a digital bookshelf to help you explore and learn more about climate change. In addition to new sustainability and zero waste books, there is a list of the websites for all the groups that participated in the Sustainability Fair.