By Ocean Heroes Liam Neupert and Elise Malterre
Young people are often told that they don't have the ability to truly make a difference in the world. Not being able to vote can be a very powerless feeling. Youth are discouraged to be engaged in politics because, in theory, they don't have as much life experience or perspective. We, Elise and Liam, wanted to challenge this idea, especially when it comes to climate change. With the impending reality of our earth's demise, we took it upon ourselves to create a difference in Boise, Idaho, the place we both call home.
Elise: I have grown up backpacking, rafting, camping, and adventuring all through our beautiful state. From where I live now, I can be on a hiking trail in under ten minutes. Growing up with this exposure to the outdoors from a young age makes the idea of losing these resources something truly, truly terrifying. In the past few years, I have started working with organizations to conserve both on a local and global scale. I've become more and more passionate about ocean conservation and the effect that we have on coral reef destruction, ocean acidification, and plastic pollution from a land-locked state over 500 miles from the ocean. It breaks my heart to see the apathy of our population as the living world we take for granted rapidly dies. The oceans impact all of our lives, no matter where we live. This climate emergency we face covers all walks of life, so we all need to engage in combating and mitigating it from every angle, whether that is the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the land we live on, the vehicles we drive, or the bottles we drink water from. I have made choices on an individual level to go vegan, lower my consumption of all products, minimize plastic and other waste, ride my bike or walk whenever possible, and overall lower personal impact. This is really important, but I also see the need for large scale changes from governments and corporations to truly stop the destruction and begin to rebuild however we still can.
Liam: I haven't really grown up in an "outdoorsy" family but I have always loved being outside and enjoying nature. When I was younger I was always outside running around, playing games, and just soaking up the sun and I still find it so necessary for me to take time almost every day to just go outside and breathe in the air. As I have gotten older and began to make my own decisions, I found myself looking into the different impacts that animal products have on the environment which led to my switch to veganism. I also began to see how terrible most of the industries we have today are. Because of this research, I quit fast fashion by only buying second hand and/or if I really can't find something that second hand, I purchase through sustainable brands. I have also switched my personal consumption to as low waste as is accessible for me. For me, that means bringing my water bottle, coffee cup, and utensils wherever I go, but I also try to buy my groceries package free and work to educate others on individual impacts. All of these changes have been because of the urgency that is the climate crisis. We as youth haven't been given a ton of power for voice, but we are the ones who are going to have to face the effects of the climate crisis at its worst.
Elise: We started hearing about Greta Thunburg around the same time as the rest of the world, as she skipped school to protest for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament in August of 2018. Suddenly, more and more climate strikes were beginning to gain momentum and attract attention. Organizations like Zero Hour, Fridays for Future, and US Youth Climate Strike were making headlines, and thus the youth climate movement was born and thriving. We decided to join the rest of the world to show our local and national politicians that climate action is critical, and we won't sit idly by watching the continuation of exploitation of earth's natural resources.
Liam: In mid-February of 2019, a local youth activist organization posted the news around the March 15th strike called on by Alexandria Villasenor on their social media feed. When I saw that people were finally getting together to create some action behind the climate crisis, I was ecstatic and quickly wrote back, "How can I help? Who is leading this?" and only after a few minutes received a message back saying "no one in Idaho had stepped up to put our name on the map, this could be a great opportunity for you!" Once I heard that, I quickly sent an email to the US Youth Climate Strikes saying I wanted to be the state lead for the climate strikes, and within the next few days, I had been added to the national slack team and shared google folder. I quickly realized that it couldn't be done alone and I knew Elise was extremely passionate about environmental issues, so I told her there was no way she was not helping me with this, and of course, she happily agreed. From there, we began creating a team, getting logistics ready and striking every Friday, just as Greta does. It first started with me sitting alone on the steps but soon Elise and other members of our group began to join in.
Elise: As the weeks went on, more and more students joined us to strike on the steps of the Capitol, but our crowd was never more than five or six people. Generally, most of the interactions we had were with people in support, then one Friday, some high schoolers drove by at their lunch break and yelled, "F*** climate change. There's still snow!" There had been so much support from our immediate circle of friends, family, and school, that we hadn't faced must backlash until this drastic shift in tone. As our social media presence grew and we gained more attention, we had to face challenges of negative and often incredibly insulting comments on Instagram, more yelling at the Capitol as people drove by, or even stopping as they walked by to tell us how ignorant and uneducated we are. As we sat on the Capitol steps, politician after politician would completely write us off as they walked by. It is amazingly discouraging to be up against our people with adamantly opposing opinions, who have authority, a fancy title, and an incredible amount of doubt in your knowledge and capabilities. At the same time, this became our fuel to prove them wrong.
Liam: After Elise and I solidified that we were going to do lead the strikes I began to reach out via social media, posting on my Instagram story asking who would be interested in helping out. Within a day, we had made a team and the craziness that is planning a protest began. With a group of about 12, it had its difficulties: trouble communicating, low turn out to calls, and much more, but through it, Elise and I definitely found out how to pull our own weight and the weight of others. I was spending endless hours in and out of school working on things such as emails, press, permits, outreach, and just generally how to create a protest from the ground up.
After a month of hard passion-driven work, it was finally the day we had been waiting for, only about 3 hours of sleep but a ton of excitement for what was about to happen. In the end, our protest went better than we could have imagined. We had over 300 people turn out to support climate action, around 200 of those students. We had speakers from all angles, schools, races, identities, and we even had a local representative give a speech to show her support for the cause. The energy between us and the crowd was electric and you could tell we were there to make change. I can personally say that when I was speaking, I was buzzing and that was a feeling of passion and excitement that I have never felt before. Beyond our speakers, we also had letters for people to write to legislatures and had a local zero waste shop pop up to educate people on the impacts your individual waste can have.
Elise: We wanted clear objectives and action items, to ensure that the strike had a lasting impact beyond just a one-day event. We set up two letter-writing stations at the strike where anyone could write a postcard to a politician about why they demand climate action and acknowledgment of the climate emergency from our local government to be distributed across our legislative branches. Overall, I would definitely agree that it was a huge success. One of the security guards even said it was one of the most peaceful and well-organized protests he had seen at the Capitol! It was such an empowering feeling to be up on the steps speaking about something I, and so many others, are so passionate about. At one point, the microphone stopped working, so I had to yell half of my speech to a crowd of 300 people, half of which could barely hear me. The crowd remained so supportive (with the exception of a few hecklers) throughout the entire speech and the event itself. I was proud of my fellow citizens of Boise for standing up for what we believe in to make a difference. Following the strike, Liam and I were invited to speak to a group of legislators, were interviewed by our local NPR station, and were featured in Boise Weekly, Idaho Press, and Idaho News. Beyond that, there have been countless individuals that came up to us after the event, or messaged us through social media thanking us for putting in the work to make change. We have so many more people wanting to get involved to make the next strike even bigger and better. I am moving to New York for school this year, so the Idaho Climate Strike team will look different moving forward. I will continue to work with Liam on sustainability and conservation efforts, but my role will be changing very soon.
Liam: Since then, both Elise and I have been doing tons of work related to the climate crisis. We were both given the amazing opportunity to go to Vancouver for the three-day Ocean Heroes Bootcamp co-founded by actor Adrian Grenier's Lonely Whale, Captain Planet Foundation, and Point Break Foundation, which equips kids passionate about our environment to create campaigns to reduce plastic pollution and implement them in their hometowns
As for next steps, I don't know exactly what it will look like. As for personal projects, I am currently looking into ways to make the idea of low waste more accessible to everyone. I am also working to find an organization that I can really connect with for the work I want to help with related to climate. Of course, one big next step is the September 20th strikes that most states in the U.S. are doing. You can easily find out if there is one happening near you by looking up the Youth Climate Strikes and if there isn't one happening in your area, I recommend taking on that challenge. Yes, it is a lot of work, but working on the strike is something I personally loved doing and I would recommend anyone who wants to get engaged in climate work to simply reach out to the organizations out there such as Zero Hour, Sunrise Movement, and the many more that exist out there.
Soon after the Climate Strike, whether related or not, we heard the exciting news that Idaho Power pledged to stop using coal, and rely solely on clean energy sources by 2045.
By Coda Christopherson (11) and Lea Eider (15)
Growing up in a plastic-free home, I was sheltered from the plastic waste crisis. I (Coda) went to a very progressive school that had vegan lunch items, farm animals and ran on solar power. My mom produces zero-waste events and my dad is a sailor, so we're very passionate about the ocean. When I was nine years old, we moved back to Manhattan Beach, California and I started 3rd grade in a public school. This was the first time I really understood that plastic-free living is not the norm; single-use plastics were everywhere, especially in the cafeteria. Once I recognized this problem, I knew I had to make a difference.
Jeff Gritchen / Orange County Register
I knew that in order to succeed in eliminating plastic straws at schools I would need to educate and enlist my friends and they would need to educate and enlist their friends — just like how social media works. After talking with my friends, I met with my principal, Nancy Doyle, at Grand View Elementary School. I participated in a water assembly (my school is really cool!) to raise awareness and joined the Manhattan Beach Sustainability Youth Council. I created social media channels and began asking people to take the Strawless School Pledge to eliminate plastic straws in schools. I emailed the director of nutrition for my school district and she email me back, approving my request to eliminate plastic straws. It's not that hard to make a change in your community! Now, I'm planning how to eliminate plastics in other school districts in California.
Last year, I attended the 2018 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, a global youth summit co-founded by Lonely Whale, Captain Planet Foundation and Point Break Foundation. The bootcamp equips participants with tools to develop campaigns to fight plastic pollution in their communities.
Ocean Heroes Bootcamp has been a great resource and I've learned many important things, especially the power of mentorship and the importance of communication. You need both to succeed and the past six months are proof that I could absolutely not run this campaign by myself. I am so grateful for the mentorship, leadership and support that I've received from Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, my school and my community. Something else I've learned from my experience, is the power of collaboration.
I hope to expand my campaign to other areas of California and the West Coast, impacting as many schools and people as possible. I think it's smart to work with others because you can create a bigger impact and reach a larger audience — plus, it's fun to work with others!
Ocean Hero Lea is also working to eliminate single-use plastics in California. I (Lea) am scared for the future of the planet. I don't want to see the oceans ruined in my generation or my children's generation — we can only fix plastic pollution if everyone is conscious of the problem and working together to fix it.
I began targeting local businesses in Arcata, California by sending a poll to local restaurants. I asked the employees of each restaurant if they dispensed single-use plastic straws and if they gave out straws by request. After the word spread, the mayor of Arcata reached out and we arranged a meeting with her and another member of the Arcata City Council. After that, I spoke to the city council at public comment, asking them to ban single-use plastic straws. At the time, the city was forming a Zero Waste Task Force and felt that any future ordinances pertaining to straws and other plastics should be proposed by the Task Force. I applied and got appointed to Arcata's Zero Waste Task Force, and I'll definitely be bringing up the issues of single-use plastics in California. At the end of 2019, we'll be suggesting legislation to the city council and it is my hope that all restaurants in the city will eliminate plastic straws. Unfortunately, it is isn't happening as quickly as I hoped — changing legislation is a lot harder than I'd imagined!
While that process is taking place, I'm working on a curriculum to educate elementary students about reducing their plastic waste. I want to promote reduction and reuse, so a big focus will be on the flaws of the system. As cliche as it sounds, my generation is going to inherit the world, and we should know how to take care of it. I didn't fully realize the impact of single-use plastics, like plastic water bottles until I attended Ocean Heroes Bootcamp. I immediately convinced my parents to get me a reusable water bottle and it was an easy transition that can have a huge impact on our planet. I want to help kids in schools make the same change I did, and if I talk to them while they're young, maybe I can teach them healthy habits that they can continue throughout their whole lives.
I wouldn't have been able to start my campaign if I hadn't gone to the Ocean Heroes Bootcamp. With their support and guidance, I learned how to put together a pitch, which guided me when talking to the Arcata City Council, and I was connected with resources and experts that offered help with my campaign.
Collaboration is a skill that I want to further develop. I know that a group can accomplish more than a single person, but I'm used to working alone. I'd like to hear other Ocean Heroes' ideas and thoughts. If we share our effective strategies for eliminating plastic waste, we can help each other with our campaigns, even by simply supporting other campaigns through social media.
It's important to have kids act as voices of our generation — we're going to inherit the world, and we want a say in the world we're going to get. I (Coda) think youth activism is important because kids are the future leaders of the world. Kids are more passionate, imaginative and optimistic than adults, so why can't change come from us?
Ocean Heroes Bootcamp 2019 is quickly approaching. I (Coda) am hoping to learn more leadership and communication skills, as well as opportunities for collaboration. Ocean Heroes Bootcamp 2018 was the first time I ever spoke publicly! I had no idea that I was capable of doing that but the experience gave me the confidence to step up as a leader and create my own campaign. I never want to stop learning, so this next bootcamp cannot come soon enough. I (Lea) hope to learn more ways to utilize social media as a tool for my campaign to increase awareness. I also want to learn how to work with others to make the greatest impact in California. For example, I'd love to expand my campaign but I live in a pretty rural and isolated area so this can be difficult. If I had someone else to help expand it and spread the word, I could accomplish more outside of my community.
The 2019 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp is open for registration here. The three-day event is free to attend, including room and board, for accepted youth ages 11-18 and their chaperones.
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Installing solar panels is a great option for homeowners who want to reduce their power bills, and the payback period can be just a handful of years with favorable conditions. However, renters and apartment owners cannot use a typical solar power system due to the lack of space, and renters in particular must also negotiate with their landlords. A miniature solar system that is portable and easy to install can be a better option in these cases.
Rooftop solar systems can greatly reduce your electric bills, and you can add solar batteries to store solar energy for use at night. However, because most systems are tied to the power local grid, you must meet many technical requirements and get a permit to put solar on your property. The initial investment and paperwork are not a problem when installing solar panels in a home you own, but they're a limiting factor for renters.
If you don't own your home or apartment, you may have little incentive to invest in improving someone else's property. Even if your landlord gives you permission to install solar panels, the decision only makes sense financially if you plan to rent for a very long time — longer than the solar payback period. Also, consider the following factors:
- When your lease ends, your landlord may not be willing to purchase the solar panels you installed.
- Moving rooftop solar panels to another home is difficult, and you will need a professional installation and another permit for the new property.
There are many types of miniature solar systems that can be installed without the complex requirements and permitting procedures of more permanent structures. These systems are an excellent option for renters, since taking them to another property is as simple as relocating your TV.
Solar Benefits for Non-Homeowners
Solar panel systems offer a common benefit, regardless of their size: they generate electricity from sunlight, reducing the amount of electricity you must pay your utility company for each month. Solar power also lowers the environmental footprint of your home, especially if you live in a region where most of the grid electricity comes from fossil fuels.
Homeowners get a few extra benefits when they install a traditional solar system, including:
- Their property becomes more valuable, and many states don't charge increased property taxes for the portion of home value that corresponds to solar panels.
- Homeowners also qualify for the 26% federal solar tax credit as well as any additional incentives from state governments or utility companies.
- There are permitting and grid connection requirements to meet, but once the solar PV system starts operating, it provides electricity for decades with minimal maintenance.
While mini solar panel systems may not be eligible for these perks, they have their benefits compared with rooftop systems. For example, they are much easier to install, with no permitting involved, and any maintenance is much simpler. Small-scale solar systems also have a lower price, and they are easily relocated.
The power bill savings achieved by a rooftop solar system are much higher, but that's because they're much larger. Many homeowners use solar PV systems that have capacities at or above 6 kW (6,000 W), while miniature systems often only generate up to 100 W. As you might expect, the corresponding cost of solar panels is very different: A 6 kW solar system can cost around $18,000 (before incentives) to install, while a miniature 100 W system might cost less than $300. However, each dollar invested is earned back multiple times over in both cases.
How to Utilize Solar Energy When You Rent
There are several options for renters who want to use solar power. These include:
- Plug-in mini solar systems
- Off-grid solar and battery systems
- Portable solar panels
- DIY solar setups
- Appliance-specific solar panels
Plug-in mini solar systems work exactly like rooftop PV systems — they connect to your residence's wiring and synchronize with the voltage and frequency of your grid power — just at a smaller scale. The power generated by a plug-in mini system is usually enough to power several electronic devices and LED bulbs, but not high-power devices like air conditioners and washing machines.
Here are some things to consider when deciding whether a solar plug-in mini system is right for your rental property:
- Plug-and-play solar panels are not subject to the permitting requirements and interconnection procedures of a traditional rooftop installation, and they can be simply connected to a suitable power outlet.
- NOTE: When using plug-in solar panels, you must make sure that the power outlet used has a circuit with enough capacity to carry the current, as well as an adequate breaker. Otherwise, you can cause an electrical fault.
- Because this type of panel connects to the electrical system of the property, you should ask your landlord for permission before investing in one. You should also ask an electrician to check the power outlet you plan on plugging the panels into to make sure it has adequate capacity.
Off-grid solar panels and solar battery systems are completely disconnected from the grid, which makes them a popular option for remote or rural sites with no electric service. In these types of systems, one or more solar panels are used to charge a battery or solar generator with USB charging sockets and power outlets for small appliances. These off-grid systems are also a viable option for renters, because they are entirely self-contained and don't connect to the utility grid.
Portable solar panels are popular for camping, but they can also be used by renters to power small devices. These are some of the smallest solar panels available, and they only have a few watts of capacity. Their main purpose is charging smartphones, tablets and other tiny USB devices, and many of them have built-in LED flashlights.
DIY solar panel setups are also an option. You can shop online for compatible solar panels, inverters, batteries and solar charge controllers, and then build a custom system according to your needs. However, keep in mind that you must have at least basic knowledge about electricity to safely and successfully install a homemade solar system.
Appliance-specific solar panels are also a viable option for renters. You can find many devices with built-in solar panels, which don't depend on a power outlet to operate. For example, you can install solar-powered outdoor lights for your backyard or balcony, or use a solar air conditioning unit or fan to provide extra ventilation during the hottest hours of the day.
Pros and Cons of Small Solar Units
Miniature solar systems have advantages and limitations like any device. They have a lower cost than traditional rooftop systems, plus they are easier to install and relocate. Just keep in mind that they can't power larger appliances, which means their power bill savings are small.
The following table summarizes the pros and cons of the most common types of miniature solar systems:
|Renter-Friendly Solar System||Pros||Cons||Typical Price|
|Plug-in solar system||
- Easy to install
- Can be plugged into a normal power outlet
- Can only operate when connected to the grid
- You need a dedicated circuit and breaker of adequate capacity
|$1,500 for a 600 W solar system|
|Off-grid solar system||
- Can charge batteries or generators to be used after sunset
- Fully independent from the grid
|- Batteries increase the system cost significantly if you want a high energy storage capacity||$400 for a 100 W solar panel with a 24,000 mAh battery|
- Easy to carry
- Can be used for camping and other trips
|- Limited use: Charging smartphones and other small devices||$100 or less for a foldable 30 W panel|
|DIY Solar||- You can create a custom system that meets your needs||- Basic electrical knowledge is needed to set up a safe system||Variable, depending on the components used.|
- Easy to install
- The solar panel is often included with the price of the device
|- You can only use the solar panel to power one appliance or device||Variable, depending on the appliance|
Miniature solar power systems are designed for small, low-power devices such as LED bulbs and electronic gadgets. If you're a renter and would like to increase your savings beyond what is possible with small solar kits, you can consider joining a community solar project near you.
- These projects normally have two membership options: purchasing a share or paying a monthly subscription.
- In both cases, you will be entitled to a portion of the kilowatt-hours produced by the system, and this portion will be subtracted from your bill.
Another advantage of community solar is that you can move freely to another apartment or home. Since the solar panels are not physically located where you live, you can usually re-assign the electricity savings to your new address.
Products to Help Renters Maximize Solar
There are many brands of miniature solar kits, but you should look for a reliable provider like Sunboxlabs. Since you're dealing with electricity, purchasing high-quality products is strongly advised to avoid accidents. Before purchasing any solar panel or a related component, make sure it has an electrical certification mark such as:
- UL (Underwriters Laboratories)
- ETL (Intertek)
- CSA (Canadian Standards Association)
- CE (Conformité Européenne)
You can look for a solar kit that includes all components, such as this WindyNation 100 Watt Solar Panel Kit. Alternatively, you can buy compatible parts separately, and build your own system. The following are some recommendations:
|Solar System Component||Recommended Product|
|Solar Panel||Renogy 100 Watt 12 Volt Monocrystalline Solar Panel|
|Battery||Mighty Max 12V Battery|
|Solar charge controller||ALLPOWERS 20A Solar Charger Controller|
|Inverter||BESTEK 500W Power Inverter|
Keep in mind that you will also need wiring to connect all components together, and make sure you read all instructions carefully to ensure safety.
By 2018 Ocean Heroes: Claire MacQueen (13 years old), Sabine Thomas (13) and Ava Inskeep (14)
We despise single-use plastics. We want to keep our oceans and our beaches clean. Early last year I (Claire) lived in India for several months and became curious about plastic waste, as it was much more visible in India than back home in the U.S. Seeing all the plastic waste while I was visiting helped me to understand that much of the trash produced by the U.S. actually ends up in developing countries, like India, which does not have a proper waste management system like we do at home, which causes a ton of trash to end up in waterways and the ocean.
While I was in India, an activist that I got to know nominated me for the 2018 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, a global youth summit co-founded by Lonely Whale, Captain Planet Foundation and Point Break Foundation. The Bootcamp equips participants with tools to develop campaigns to fight plastic pollution.
I recruited my friend Sabine to join me at Ocean Heroes Bootcamp, and we both learned how we could help our community rely less on single-use plastic.
Once Sabine and I returned from the Bootcamp, our friend Ava also got involved, and we started the Instagram account, Straw Free D.C.
Sabine, Claire and Ava spoke with the Washington Post last month at the Washington International School.Theresa Vargas / The Washington Post
As eighth-grade students, we didn't know how much influence we would have across our nation's capital to eliminate single-use plastics in Washington DC but understanding that big results sometimes come from small steps, we decided to first focus on eliminating single-use plastics in our school.
We noticed a lot of unnecessary single-use plastics at school, like the cafeteria's plastic cutlery dispensers that dispense multiple single-use plastics at a time, causing many unused utensils to fall on the floor and land in the waste. When we raised this concern to the Washington International school, leadership invited us to help select our school's next food service provider, which will be decided by the end of the 2019 school year. Within this new role, we will get to weigh-in on each company's sustainability practices, including their use of single-use plastic.
While we were working to reduce plastics in our school, we were also developing our citywide campaign focused on single-use plastic straws. The timing of our campaign launch was very fortunate. To support the ban on plastic straws, our first step was to email the council-people who represent Wards 1, 2 and 4, because two are the representatives of the wards in which we live and the third is an at-large member who represents all DC residents. When we got in touch with Brianne Nadeau, representative of Ward 1, she told us about a proposed city wide ban on straws which they were already working on. After learning about the ban, and that it only included plastic straws and stirrers, we wanted to take things a step further and support legislation that would eliminate single-use plastic straws and utensils. So, we went back to our school and met with our principal to discuss plastic use in the cafeteria. Our school will soon be choosing a new food provider, and we will be able to advocate for the company that we think will be the most environmentally friendly.
We hope that our efforts can be a model for other DC schools to follow in the future. We also hope to continue growing our social media campaign to raise awareness across our community and the region.
We credit Ocean Heroes Bootcamp with the inspiration that helped us learn to work with each other and how to reach out to other activists fighting to eliminate single-use plastics in our community.
It's important that everyone is doing their part to make a difference for our environment—including the youth!
Kids have longer to live on this planet, so it's in our best interest to take care of it. If nothing changes, there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050 (we'll only be in our early 40's by then!)
Collaborating with friends and other activists is not only more fun, but also allows us to combine our different skill sets, and ultimately accomplish a lot more than we could on our own.
We're so excited for the 2019 Ocean Heroes Bootcamp and we're looking forward to learning new effective ways to beat plastic pollution and make a difference in our community.