These teens have some ideas for stopping climate change | Science News for Students

These teens have some ideas for stopping climate change

Regeneron Science Talent Search finalists share their ideas for halting climate change in its tracks
Mar 12, 2019 — 10:47 am EST
a photo of an emergency road sign that says "Global warming ahead"

If you could do one thing to stop climate change, what would it be?

Bill Oxford/iStock/Getty Images Plus

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Climate change can be overwhelming. Over the past 250 years, human activities have warmed the planet’s surface, changed weather patterns and even made the oceans more acidic. Halting or slowing down these changes requires that people stop putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere in high amounts. The problem is too large for any one person to fix. But what if you could? What if you suddenly had the power to do one thing to stop climate change? What would you do with this huge responsibility?

The Regeneron Science Talent Search is full of minds that are up for this challenge. Winning the Science Talent Search, after all, isn’t just about who’s got a good science fair project. The finalists are challenged to think like a scientist and take on big problems. Like climate change. We asked some of this year’s finalists what one thing they would try if they had the infinite power to fight climate change.

Going green

a photo of Kaili Liu sitting at a table next to a window
To stop climate change, Kaili Liu says, it’s time to start planting trees and greenery. Everywhere.
Ayers Photography/SSP

If he could do one thing to stop climate change right now, Daniel Schäffer, 17, would start planting. Daniel is a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. Plants take up CO2 from the atmosphere and store that carbon in their trunks, stems and leaves, so the more plants, the less CO2 to worry about. “I’d stop deforestation and plant a ton of trees,” he says. “It’s not the quickest, but it’s sustainable.” Plus, it doesn’t force people to change their behaviors.

“Plant more trees anywhere there’s space,” agrees Kaili Liu, 17. The senior at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn., wants to put plants on buildings, too, she says. She advocates creating more green roofs — covering roofs with gardens and greenery. “Green roofs and trees will help decrease CO2 emissions,” she says.

Catching carbon

Plants can suck CO2 out of the air, but people can also develop technologies to do this, notes Rachel Seevers, 17. Rachel is a senior at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Ky. These technologies could trap carbon as it is produced from fossil fuel plants, she says, or even suck it directly out of the air. “You can take emissions and recapture them and reuse them … take it out of the air and use it for good.”

If you want to force people to change, says Kevin Chengming Qian, 18, hit them where it counts — their wallets. The senior at Montgomery Blair High School would “assign values to each thing that’s harmful [to the climate], and when each person does that, I’d tax them.” You get charged extra, he says, if it’s clear you don’t care about climate.

Hit them where it counts

Emma Montgomery, 18, says she would attack companies instead of people. “One thing I get upset by in terms of climate change is how there’s a big focus on what the individual can do,” the senior at Ossining High School in New York says. “In reality, it’s the corporations that are contributing the most” to climate change. She wants heavy restrictions on companies that produce too much carbon dioxide.

The government could also work together with businesses to limit the burning of fossil fuels, says Preeti Sai Krishnamani, 17. She’s a senior at the Charter School of Wilmington in Delaware. “I’d want them to work together for green innovation and to reinvent their products,” she says. “The only way you can influence people is to change the products they are using.”

Some people in the U.S. government are starting this approach, notes Brent Perlman, 17. “I would try and pass the Green New Deal,” says the senior at Byram Hills High School in Armonk, N.Y. The Green New Deal is a proposed government program to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. “I think it’s important to incentivize people to transition away from gas,” he says. “I know a tax on gas is very unpopular, but I do think we need to make sacrifices now to preserve the health of our environment for future generations.”

While we’re making big changes, says Amol Singh, 18, let’s go worldwide. “I would impose a carbon tax on all countries,” says the senior at Lynbrook High School in San Jose, Calif. “The money would be used to reduce the effects of climate change.”

When you believe

It’s time to change the way the public thinks about climate change, says Chirag Kumar, 17.  People need to realize that climate change is already having impacts, says the senior at Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, N.Y. “It’s not only about tomorrow getting warmer,” he notes. “It’s about extreme weather events, like the polar vortex and extreme heat waves. It’s a problem that will change how we live our lives.”

Laws and taxes can make people change. But people might change on their own if they believe the problem is worth working on. That’s why Ana Humphrey, 18, wants to educate people. “It’s such a big challenge; we need to collaborate,” says the senior at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va. “If we could get everyone on the same page, I think we would figure it out. These are issues that impact all of us.” Perhaps the most important key to climate change, then, is getting everyone to understand that’s is a problem that needs solving.

(The Regeneron Science Talent Search is run by Society for Science & the Public and funded by Regeneron. Society for Science & the Public also publishes Science News for Students. Regeneron is a company that develops treatments for diseases such as cancer.)

Power Words

(more about Power Words)

acidic     An adjective for materials that contain acid. These materials often are capable of eating away at some minerals such as carbonate, or preventing their formation in the first place.

atmosphere     The envelope of gases surrounding Earth or another planet.

behavior     The way something, often a person or other organism, acts towards others, or conducts itself.

blog     Short for web log, these internet posts can take the form of news reports, topical discussions, opinionated rants, diaries or photo galleries.

carbon     The chemical element having the atomic number 6. It is the physical basis of all life on Earth. Carbon exists freely as graphite and diamond. It is an important part of coal, limestone and petroleum, and is capable of self-bonding, chemically, to form an enormous number of chemically, biologically and commercially important molecules.

carbon dioxide     (or CO2) A colorless, odorless gas produced by all animals when the oxygen they inhale reacts with the carbon-rich foods that they’ve eaten. Carbon dioxide also is released when organic matter burns (including fossil fuels like oil or gas). Carbon dioxide acts as a greenhouse gas, trapping heat in Earth’s atmosphere. Plants convert carbon dioxide into oxygen during photosynthesis, the process they use to make their own food.

climate     The weather conditions that typically exist in one area, in general, or over a long period.

climate change     Long-term, significant change in the climate of Earth. It can happen naturally or in response to human activities, including the burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests.

environment     The sum of all of the things that exist around some organism or the process and the condition those things create. Environment may refer to the weather and ecosystem in which some animal lives, or, perhaps, the temperature and humidity (or even the placement of things in the vicinity of an item of interest).

force     Some outside influence that can change the motion of a body, hold bodies close to one another, or produce motion or stress in a stationary body.

fossil fuel     Any fuel — such as coal, petroleum (crude oil) or natural gas — that has developed within the Earth over millions of years from the decayed remains of bacteria, plants or animals.

generation     A group of individuals (in any species) born at about the same time or that are regarded as a single group. Your parents belong to one generation of your family, for example, and your grandparents to another. Similarly, you and everyone within a few years of your age across the planet are referred to as belonging to a particular generation of humans. The term also is sometimes extended to year classes of other animals or to types of inanimate objects (such as electronics or automobiles).

green     (in chemistry and environmental science) An adjective to describe products and processes that will pose little or no harm to living things or the environment.

high school     A designation for grades nine through 12 in the U.S. system of compulsory public education. High-school graduates may apply to colleges for further, advanced education.

innovation     (v. to innovate; adj. innovative) An adaptation or improvement to an existing idea, process or product that is new, clever, more effective or more practical.

oxygen     A gas that makes up about 21 percent of Earth's atmosphere. All animals and many microorganisms need oxygen to fuel their growth (and metabolism).

polar vortex     A semi-permanent weather system involving a large air mass in Earth’s upper atmosphere. It consists of an area of low atmospheric pressure. In the Northern Hemisphere, this tends to center near Canada's Baffin Island and over northeast Siberia. Winter strengthens the vortex, because that’s when the temperature difference between the poles and mid-latitudes is greatest.

renewable energy     Energy from a source that is not depleted by use, such as hydropower (water), wind power or solar power.

Science Talent Search     An annual competition created and run by Society for Science & the Public. Begun in 1942, this event brings 40 research-oriented high school seniors to Washington, D.C. each year to showcase their research to the public and to compete for awards. Since spring 2016, this competition has been sponsored by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

Society for Science and the Public  A nonprofit organization created in 1921 and based in Washington, D.C. Since its founding, the Society has been promoting not only public engagement in scientific research but also the public understanding of science. It created and continues to run three renowned science competitions: the Regeneron Science Talent Search (begun in 1942), the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (initially launched in 1950) and Broadcom MASTERS (created in 2010). The Society also publishes award-winning journalism: in Science News (launched in 1922) and Science News for Students (created in 2003). Those magazines also host a series of blogs (including Eureka! Lab).

sustainable     An adjective to describe the use of resources in a such a way that they will continue to be available long into the future.

weather     Conditions in the atmosphere at a localized place and a particular time. It is usually described in terms of particular features, such as air pressure, humidity, moisture, any precipitation (rain, snow or ice), temperature and wind speed. Weather constitutes the actual conditions that occur at any time and place. It’s different from climate, which is a description of the conditions that tend to occur in some general region during a particular month or season.