ETHS Environmental Clubs During COVID

Aryeh Lesch, Ahania Soni, and Sofia Wagner

Environmental activism has become increasingly important as the effects of climate change continue to be felt worldwide. For years, ETHS students have been working to create meaningful change in the Evanston community in order to protect the environment, but now, with COVID-19 putting a stop to in-person events and in-person schooling, they face a completely new set of challenges.
Senior Jacob Brodsky is a co-founder of the E-Town Sunrise hub, the Evasnton-based branch of the national Sunrise movement, and currently serves as the political lead on its board. Having worked with Sunrise throughout his time in high school, he is familiar with their goals and what they are capable of accomplishing in a school year.
“[Sunrise is] a youth-led movement to divest from fossil fuels and… raise awareness about climate change. [We] really have the youth emphasize that because we’re the ones who are going to inherit the planet, and we want it to be in the best shape possible,” says Brodsky.

Last year, E-Town Sunrise held a number of marches, rallies and walkouts to spread awareness about climate change and promote political action to move Evanston towards a greener future. The group is advocating for an increase in composting, in use of sustainable energy sources and in the implementation of policies and regulations geared towards combating climate change. Unfortunately, when the lockdowns struck in March, E-Town Sunrise was forced to abandon much of what they had planned for the spring semester—most notably their plans for Earth Month. Now, as the movement tries to return to holding rallies and marches, the pandemic continues to hinder their plans.
“We don’t want to over do things. There are only so many actions we can do, but we need to make sure that we’re following social distancing protocols, and that everybody feels safe,” says junior Lily Aaron, a hub coordinator for E-Town Sunrise. “We definitely stressed on our [social media] that at every single physical event that we do, everybody has to be masked. And we do definitely encourage everybody to be at least six feet apart.”
The Climate Action Committee of the Community Service Club has also been working to keep everyone safe while continuing to spread their message. They’ve focused on hosting outdoor events in order to prevent the spread of COVID, and they’ve found many outdoor activities which support their mission.
“We’re just going and helping and volunteering in the [Edible Acres] garden, and for October, we’re going to be doing the same. We’re going to have two more events, helping out with what they need and really just being able to do some hands-on work outside,” says senior Clara Luczak, one of the leaders of the Climate Action Committee. “Most of our food comes from California and other places by truck, but [it’s important] to try to grow as much as we can within our community.”
Of course, ETHS students are not alone in their fight against climate change. Activists around the world have also been continuing activism. Their examples have helped Evanston’s climate leaders to create safe forms of protest. Specifically, Brodsky, and other leading activists have looked to climate activist Greta Thunberg for inspiration.
“Thunberg [and others] are doing more socially distanced sit-ins, strikes and rallies, and I think we’re definitely aiming to try and do that,” says Brodsky. “[Sunrise is] reaching out to the youth through social media [and] talking with administration, which is definitely harder now because they have to deal with COVID.”
Despite the challenges COVID-19 has posed, in some ways it’s also been an opportunity to expand. Aaron feels that E-Town Sunrise has had surprising success in engaging the Evanston community during COVID-19. An increased social media presence has been able to attract a much wider audience for their movement.
“Now, not only do we have a lot of ETHS people, but we have younger kids who are being homeschooled, and we have a decent population coming from Chute. Sunrise is a student-led movement, but we do have a lot of the older community of Evanston coming in and listening and sharing their insight.”
Senior Sarika Waikar, a co-founder of E-Town Sunrise and co-chair for the Climate Action Committee, shares the idea that the pandemic has changed the way people interact with the environment.
“People have changed their perception on climate change over quarantine; they finally understand how terrible some things are for the environment.”
Despite the potential decrease in organized climate activism over the coming months, there are still ways to contribute to the cause while at home.
“Getting yourself educated on how climate change works, on the natural disasters that it worsens and, if you’re old enough, voting are all ways to be a climate activist while at home,” Brodsky says. “Education is a big piece of it. Because then you can have conversations and bring it to the forefront
if you know how to talk about it.”