Young local activists rally against climate change

Climate Kids after-school program raises awareness

By Kendra Walker

There’s a group of third, fourth and fifth graders at Crested Butte Community School joining forces to learn about topics surrounding climate change and spread awareness in the community.

Led by Kathy Norgard, the CBCS Climate Kids after-school program meets once a week to learn about topics surrounding climate change and sustainability. The program first emerged from the Gunnison Valley Climate Crisis Coalition (GVC3), which advocates for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the Gunnison Valley and educates the community on how to reverse climate change through various initiatives, collaborations and advocacy. When the coalition first began meeting, a small group of 9-year-olds also started getting together to discuss their concerns around climate change. They called themselves “The Climate Kids” and more of their peers joined them along the way. 

This year, Norgard decided to expand those meetings into an after-school club at CBCS. Students meet every Tuesday and Norgard says she has an incredible group of volunteers leading activities and helping with the curriculum.

“So many kids are worried about climate change at a very visceral level, and they should be. They are the ones that are really going to be affected. We’re at the turning point and I think every little bit counts,” says Norgard.

The after-school club focuses on a variety of topics, including recycling, water preservation, composting, bee protection and the dangers of vehicle idling. 

Norgard says they talk about what the kids can do at their level at home with their families, such as turning the water off while brushing your teeth and learning the difference between what products can be recycled and what goes to the landfill. They play games and work together on various activities, such as making composters out of jars and creating posters with messages related to combating climate change. 

Norgard recalls a field trip this year to the KBUT radio station. “We walked over to the station so the kids could read their posters as public service announcements over the air, and it turned into a little mini climate march. The kids were so excited when cars driving by honked in support.”

Recently, the Crested Butte Marshals came over to the school with their Tesla and talked about pollution and the dangers of idling your vehicle. “The kids loved it when the police officers opened up the back doors and played music,” said Norgard. “They also made a banner about idling awareness which has been circulating around to the local businesses in town.” 

The Climate Kids program is currently taking a break from meeting, but Norgard hopes to start the club back up again at the end of April to finish out the school year, depending on availability of volunteers. She says a lot of folks and organizations in the community have reached out with interest to come talk with the kids about additional topics, including composting, solar power and how to calculate carbon emissions.

“The kids are excited and a lot of people in the community have been excited about this,” says Norgard. “Our community really cares and people want to make a difference.” 

Norgard notes that even with a small group of students getting together, “It’s all these little things that are going to add up to make a difference.”

Nicole Blaser, a member of GVC3 who has worked with the kids on composting, agrees. “The real efforts are unfolding like dominos on these small-scale efforts coming from every direction. It’s encouraging to see. It’s definitely part of a giant collective movement and it feels really worthwhile to see this kind of energy happening in small communities like ours.”

Blaser is also involved in a new Western Colorado University Master in Environmental Management MEM composting internship program that will examine composting efforts at both a small community scale and at a large municipal scale. The interns will assist GVC3 in researching and developing a plan to implement municipal-scale composting. One internship is already underway to focus on a small-scale neighborhood implementation plan for composting. 

“We’re hoping our valley will eventually get into composting,” says Blaser. “Thirty percent of what goes into landfill is organic and can be composted. Landfills use a lot of water resources and give off methane gasses. They’re also filling up so it’s important to keep organic materials out of landfills.”

Blaser says many communities similar to Crested Butte have launched composting programs and the interns will examine what other places are doing, focus on education and look at the possibilities of community-level composting here in the Gunnison Valley. 

“I feel very optimistic about it, and composting has so many benefits. I’m excited to get our community participating and I’m hoping to get these internship programs overlapping with the Climate Kids,” Blaser says. She also plans to implement more composting discussions and activities into the Climate Kids programming for next fall and bring in more experts to talk to the students. 

Norgard is grateful for the community support GVC3 and the Climate Kids have received. “So many people in the community have done major things to address the issue of climate change. The Gunnison Library with its heat pumps and solar and building orientation is a showpiece for our county, John Cattles (assistant county manager for operations and sustainability) is doing so much at the county level and our Crested Butte town council up here is really focusing on trying to move through their Climate Action Plan. There’s been so much support and collaboration to nudge these issues forward.” 

As for GVC3, the group is looking for passionate volunteers and organizations interested in partnering on the next climate march, which will take place this fall. Contact gunnisonvalleyclimate@gmail.com to support and/or volunteer.

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