Opinion: A Plea for Sustainability

Arielle Kouyoumdjian exhorts Potomac to act now–and explains what we can do.

Arielle Kouyoumdjian, Managing Editor

I’m beginning to get fed up with the so-called climate “movement” that isn’t moving.

I spent this past semester trying to understand what young people can do to confront climate change, so that all the hard work we’re doing every day isn’t just a futile race to Planet Zero.  What are we really doing to change our habits and implement sustainability at Potomac? I’ve spoken with Potomac School staff and students, as well as sustainability experts at Columbia University and CapGemini, a large international consulting firm. Oddly enough, carbon mitigation efforts at Potomac are stagnant. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that, while there are plenty of well-intentioned faculty, climate initiatives at Potomac are going nowhere because we hesitate to make carbon mitigation a financial priority. I want to make it clear that there is no shortage of faculty thoughtfulness, drive, and commitment to taking care of our ecosystem–and that gives me hope. However, our community also needs to think about climate change in the larger context: How can we mitigate the environmental impact of our education? While we make some effort to be sustainable in the context of our immediate ecosystem, we are doing little to mitigate our carbon footprint, whose impact spans far beyond the Potomac bubble. The countries that contribute the least to global emissions are paying the highest price–climate change disproportionately impacts developing countries. As part of the richest 10% of the world’s population that produces 50% of global emissions, don’t we have a moral obligation as a school to minimize our damage to earth?

Let’s commit to a concrete, financially-backed dedication to pay back the planet for what our school consumes. The genuine prioritization of sustainability at this school.

  • Let’s start by becoming a certified Sustainable School through Fairfax 350’s “Earth Friendly Fairfax Initiative
  •  Let’s remove disposable containers from the lunchroom (we can even join the Plastic Free Challenge!)
  • Let’s actually implement a few of the 9th graders’ shark-tank style sustainability pitches (see below).
  • Let’s turn the Spangler lights out at night.
  • Let’s work out our quarrel with the composting company. 
  • Let’s buckle down on our recycling.
  • Let’s plant rain gardens to absorb runoff before it reaches Pimmit
  • Let’s invest in at least a few hybrid buses. 
  • Let’s cap the roofs with solar panels.
  • Let’s aim for Net-0 carbon emissions by 2030 (and until then, attempt to offset our emissions.)

Students can take charge of these first few steps. But it’s going to take administrative cooperation to achieve some of the more ambitious goals. One of my main takeaways from speaking with Mr. Conroy and Mr. Pingree was that frugality trumps the need for sustainability on the Potomac campus. Whether it be investing in an all-electric bus fleet, recycling, or composting, expenses seem to be the foremost concern that prevents us from implementing sustainable changes.​​ But in the long-term, paying back the earth pays Potomac, too. 

These latter initiatives sound expensive. Admittedly, they are–in the short-term. But in the long-term, paying back the earth pays Potomac, too. So let’s talk savings.

How can we create meaningful change in the Potomac community?

Start by involving the generation that currently has no stake in the financial game: youth. Here’s the part where students come in. We don’t care about the economy; and we are (hopefully) more driven by moral imperative than by money. 

If you’re like me: fed up with a climate “movement” that isn’t moving– let’s stop grumbling and actually do something about it. The climate movement at Potomac is stagnant; but it’s not just the fault of penny-wise adults. I mean, c’mon.The least we can do is do our part.

  • Use. Reusable. Plates and dishes. It’s so forking easy!!
  • Recycle.
  • Compost.
  • Better yet, only take how much food you can eat.
  • Don’t buy your hoco dress from Shein (or any other fast fashion store).
  • Carpool if you can.
  • Email the administration about your sustainability ideas.

We also have to address the climate apathy amongst students at Potomac. I’m disappointed by the administration’s unresponsiveness towards student environmental initiatives–no wonder there’s some apathy! I’ve started to feel it myself. I’ve reached out on multiple occasions to the administration about Fairfax 350’s “Earth Friendly Fairfax Initiative” (becoming a certified “Sustainable School”) and their Plastic Free Challenge, which incentivizes Potomac to curb all usage of disposable plastics. The first time I reached out, the ideas simply didn’t come to fruition–the conversation was not continued, until I brought it up via email again the following year. I did not receive a response. 

Last year, the honors biology student spent weeks creating plans to make the school more sustainable, and presented their ideas, shark-tank style, to teachers and administrators. None of the projects was implemented.  

We can’t solve the climate crisis solely by prodding the economy, because we kids aren’t generally part of the workforce or large corporate decision-makers. Yet it is youth who will inherit the planet. If Potomac is going to open its checkbook, somebody needs to take the first step. It looks like that’s going to be up to the students. If teachers and administrators see that we are passionate and driven about sustainability at Potomac, they will be more inclined to put forth the effort and money needed to make change. If they don’t, at least we can say we’ve tried our best. And: as a future inheritor if this mixed-up, muddled-up, shook up world, I beg of the administration–invest in sustainability! Your hesitancy to act costs me my future.