Student Driving and Climate Change 

Katie Schwartz, Staff Writer

It is no surprise that climate change has been intensifying dramatically over the last decade. This crisis is the result of many factors, but the primary culprit is humankind. A significant anthropogenic source of CO2, the main contributor, is car exhaust. According to an article by Scientific American, driving increased by a whopping three and a half percent in the single year of 2014, thus increasing CO2 and the Earth’s temperature. This has to do in part with urbanization and current cheap gas prices amid the pandemic. For some, the consequences of this excessive amount of driving are becoming apparent, and that is a concern for people like senior vehicles analyst David Cooke. However, Cooke knows there is a solution. He says, “This makes work on efficiency and alternative fuels all the more pressing,” but in the meantime, doing what we can to mitigate our effects on the planet via transportation methods is crucial to protecting the earth.

What’s not helping? The number of students commuting to and from school by car every day. IHS senior Priya Joshi attends Sammamish High School’s Washington Network for Innovative Careers (WANIC) program during the first half of each day, so she is lucky enough to escape Issaquah’s morning school traffic. However, after the bell rings signifying the end of the day at Issaquah High School (IHS), she says that “kids who get stuck behind the buses are idling in the parking lot backup for as long as 25 minutes.” When this happens, Joshi’s commute home can take almost an hour, and she only lives in Bellevue. Joshi additionally states, “I full-on sprint out of the building after seventh period.” Many students have the same idea, some even going so far as to ask their teachers if they can be excused a couple minutes early at the end of the day to beat the traffic. This just demonstrates the sheer amount of vehicles exiting the school each day, most leaving behind a trail of exhaust pollution.

One common method to reduce CO2 production is carpooling. I like to describe this as killing two birds with one stone, as two (or more) people reach their destination for the price of just one vehicle’s emissions. Carpooling is particularly convenient in the scope of school because for the most part, we are all going to the same place at the same time, and if you carpool with a neighbor, that could be true for the ride home as well. The buses provided by IHS are an effective example of carpooling used by many students, such as sophomore Aaron Rhim. For his daily commute, Rhim partakes in carpooling both ways: “I take the bus in the morning, then drive home with friends after tennis practice.” To further his positive impact, Rhim says that even when he learns to drive, he will still take the bus some days.

If driving is so bad for the environment, why do many of us barely think twice before mindlessley climbing in behind the wheel? Perhaps the reason is a lack of fundamental awareness, as explained by freshman Didi Dobreva. Dobreva has no doubt that the climate crisis worsens every year, and that is because she notices it in her life. For example, she says, “I went to Bulgaria a couple summers ago, then again this summer and it was noticeably hotter.” Despite the fact that both trips were during the same time of year, being several years apart can make all the difference with our rapidly warming climate; no one likes hot, humid, vacations according to Dobreva, who states, “My family was less than comfortable… sweating and feeling dehydrated throughout the trip.” In fact, Climate ADAPT pegs Bulgaria as “particularly vulnerable to climate change.” This piece of information is something Rhim might find interesting, as he told me “global warming exists and has consequences,” but claims that in order for him to notice these in his everyday life, he would have to pay extremely close attention. This could be because Washington is less susceptible to increasing temperatures, one of the major and most notable impacts of climate change. Instead, Washington’s Department of Ecology says we are likely to face water related ramifications, such as sea level rise or degrading water supply. When asked to rate her knowledge of global warming as a whole, Dobreva gave herself a one out of five. She goes on to explain, “I’ve never been formally taught about the subject so I don’t know many of the specifics.” Despite this lack of conventional climate education, Dobreva is still able to identify the basic correlation between cars and global warming, as we are constantly faced with that reality: “I feel like it’d be hard not to know that driving is harmful to the environment because of the carbon dioxide emissions that cars produce.” Proof that in this age where information spreads fast and society is more aware than ever, there is little excuse for the supposed ignorance people are displaying towards this pressing issue.

Junior Nathan Yu exemplifies this stating, “I stay current on modern issues.” Taking this initiative gives Yu the privilege of describing his climate awareness level as “exceptional.” Being informed about this crisis drives (no pun intended) Yu to say, “I’d like to own an electric vehicle in the near future.”

After hearing some student perspectives, it is apparent that our school’s awareness and opinions on the topic vary greatly, and climate education is a major reason—both in school and at home. NPR reports that as low as 45% of parents talk to their kids about climate change, and an even lower 42% of teachers educate students on the subject. This number is quite low considering the fact that double that amount of adults, 86%, want children to be knowledgeable about how global warming impacts the world around them. In this day and age, the climate crisis is inescapable, and we are passed the point of no return. Fortunately, IHS students seemed to provide some great ideas about how to slow climate change’s racing onset. Carpooling, investing in an electric or energy efficient car, and taking the quickest route to your destination will have the planet thanking you.