Original post from The Metro West Daily News –
By Cesareo Contreras /
Daily News Staff, Jan 30, 2020
Ashland High School senior Molly Gun has made it her mission to encourage people to curb a common habit that many don’t realize takes a toll on the environment.
ASHLAND – For some people, combating the effects of climate change can seem like a daunting task. But the way Molly Gun sees it, even small actions can have a large impact. Since last May, the Ashland High School senior has made it her mission to encourage people to curb a common habit that many don’t realize takes a toll on the environment: allowing their cars and trucks to idle.
Using a $500 grant she received from the Merlyn Education and Climate Protection Project, a Rhode Island nonprofit, Gun has spread the word throughout her school of the environmental benefits of not idling. And for the past few weeks, she has been attending meetings with the town’s Sustainability Committee trying to integrate her mission with the town’s resolution of completely offsetting its emissions by 2040.
“I chose idling because it’s really just mindless and with a little bit of mindfulness it’s an issue that could be dramatically reduced.” Gun, 18, said in a recent interview.
Running a car for more than 10 minutes is worse for the environment than actually driving it at 30 mph, Gun said. Drivers who leave their cars running for more than 15 seconds actually end up wasting more gas than if they were to restart their engines, she said.
Transportation remains the largest-growing source of greenhouse emissions in the state, making up more than 40% of them, according to Katie Gronendyke, press secretary for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Personal vehicles in the U.S. generate about 30 million tons of carbon dioxide every year from idling alone, according to the U.S. Department of Energy & Renewable Energy. Under state law, motorists who allow their vehicles to idle for more than 5 minutes can be fined $100 for a first offense. Second and subsequent offenses are subject to higher fines.
Ashland High School has two signs in front of the school, where students get on buses, describing the law and the associated penalties. But there are no signs in the back of the school, where many students are picked up.
Using the grant, Gun created stickers and air fresheners with the phrase: “Be mindful: Don’t idle. Turn off your engine.” She was able to post the signs outside her school, encouraging parents and students to turn off their engines while waiting inside their vehicle. She is also drafting a brief letter in hopes of having it included in weekly emails the school sends to parents.
“Well this is our future, basically,” said Gun. “It gets scarier and scarier every day, especially when you don’t see people making the changes that they need to. It just seems like we are at a standstill and a lot of times, it’s easy to feel like we are stuck and nothing is getting done.”
High School Principal Kelley St. Couer said she would gladly include Gun’s letter in her emails to parents. “I think it’s a great idea. I applaud her and the other kids that are always working on ways to help the environment,” she said.
As part of the Merlyn Education and Climate Protection Project, Gun was assigned a mentor. Grants Director Jim Stahl thought the best person for the job was Sharon Gold, of South Kingstown, Rhode Island, who worked to get an anti-idling resolution passed in her town.
“She is one exceptional human being,” Gold said of Gun in a recent telephone interview. “You give her a suggestion and she just flies with it. She’s just an exceptional young woman who really cares about the environment.”
Stahl said Gun’s grant application stood out because it was a realistic project of which Gun seemed enthusiastic and passionate.
“She seemed to have the drive to execute her own goals,” he said. “The other thing that we liked is that we knew that if her program was successful, it would call attention to itself. We have been delighted to see that is exactly what happened.”
Stahl is encouraged by the number of young people working to fight climate change, pointing to 17-year-old Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. It is a movement happening globally, nationally and locally.
“There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Greta Thunbergs right in Massachusetts and Rhode Island and other New England states,” Stahl said. “Our goal is to find them and support them. Their moral voice is undeniable, and I think the adults are listening.”
In the past year, the Merlyn Climate program has awarded nine grants to young adults. Grants range from $500 to $3,000, Stahl said.
He said one student is starting a kelp farm in Maine. Another is studying climate change’s impact on the Bronx River in New York. Others are leaders in the Sunrise Movement, a nonprofit that advocates for more government policies addressing climate change.
Matthew Marshquist, chairman of the Ashland Sustainability Committee, said Gun’s initiative could blend nicely with the town’s net-ero resolution.
“There’s some big things we can do to reduce emissions from transportation – like infrastructure changes to make the community more walkable,” he said. “But those are regional changes that require significant funding. So this idea of reducing idling doesn’t cost anything. This practice would actually save money.
Gun is co-president of the National Youth Council at Project Green Schools, a nonprofit whose goal is to develop the next generation of environmental leaders. She hasn’t yet decided where she will go to college, but said she plans to study sustainability and public health. She said she has given a lot of thought to becoming a sustainability coordinator or working to address public health threats.
To keep the initiative alive after she graduates from Ashland High this spring, Gun has been collaborating with the school’s environmental club.
“We all just have think a little bit more about what we are doing and how that impacts the word,” she said.
Cesareo Contreras writes about environmental issues and technology for the Daily News. He can be reached at 508-626-3957 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @cesareo_r.