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Want to see the faces fighting climate change? Check out these teenagers in Park City

Park City High School students are responsible for getting the school district to set a goal of achieving 100% clean energy by 2030

Benjamin Benson, a member of the Granite School District’s renewable energy campaign, left, Nina Serafin, student lead of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, Tess Carson, a member of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, and Montana Burack, a member of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, pose for a portrait outside of Park City High School in Park City on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.
Benjamin Benson, a member of the Granite School District’s renewable energy campaign, left, Nina Serafin, student lead of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, Tess Carson, a member of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, and Montana Burack, a member of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, pose for a portrait outside of Park City High School in Park City on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Want to see the faces of climate change? They’re right in front of me. Three teenage girls named Nina, Tess and Montana. They don’t look all that intimidating. Put the three of them together and they wouldn’t make even one offensive lineman. Nobody’s going to back out of a dark alley if they’re standing at the other end.

And yet, if not for them, the Park City School District would not be committed to achieving 100% clean energy districtwide within nine years, in addition to setting a goal to study how to transform into a non-fossil-fuel bus fleet sometime in the future.

Guided by the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club and inspired by a similar commitment by the Salt Lake School District, the Park City “Collective Commitment on Clean Energy” campaign began in May 2020, just as the pandemic was gaining steam. Undaunted, the crusade forged on, crossing the goal line 18 months later when the Park City School Board formally approved its resolution.

It was my grandson Ben who told me about the Park City climate changers. Ben, a junior at Skyline High School, is working with a group of Granite School District students trying to get Granite to make the same kind of clean energy commitment as Park City.

“You should write about what the kids at Park City are doing,” he said. “It’s pretty impressive.”

So Ben and I drove to Park City High School to meet the three crusaders and let them tell us how they pulled it off.

Leader of the climate change gang is Nina Serafin. After first learning of the nationwide clean energy school crusade from Rebekah Ashley of the Sierra Club, Nina began strategizing how Park City could get involved. She was soon joined by Tess Carson, who is co-president with Nina of the Park City High School Climate Action Club, then Montana Burack and others.

It was Nina’s move to Utah three years ago that jump-started her climate activism. She grew up in Washington — her father is Zig Serafin, a former top executive at Microsoft who moved his family to Utah to join Ryan Smith’s Qualtrics in 2017 when Nina was 15.

Benjamin Benson, a member of the Granite School District’s renewable energy campaign, left, Nina Serafin, student lead of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, Tess Carson, a member of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, and Montana Burack, a member of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, pose for a portrait outside of Park City High School in Park City on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.
Benjamin Benson, a member of the Granite School District’s renewable energy campaign, left, Nina Serafin, student lead of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, Tess Carson, a member of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, and Montana Burack, a member of the Park City School District’s renewable energy campaign, pose for a portrait outside of Park City High School in Park City on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The family first lived in Utah County, where the air quality, in Nina’s words, “was quite a culture shock.” Her mother, Ashley, took one look at the inversion — which you could actually see — and put masks on her children. This was before the pandemic.

It was about this time that the world became aware of a Swedish girl Nina’s age named Greta Thunberg. In fall 2018, 15-year-old Greta gained international attention by skipping class to sit outside of the Swedish parliament and demand climate change.

Her passive but effective resistance inspired a worldwide movement called Fridays for Future — the group’s rallying mantra: “There is no Planet B” — that has spread to 150 countries and 7,500 cities, including Salt Lake City. Every Friday, you’ll see Utah youth rallying for climate change on the steps of the state capitol, including, more often than not, Nina and her friends.

“Greta is one of my biggest inspirations,” Nina attested. “She’s super fearless with all the movements she’s been involved with and I look up to her with how she interacts with people of authority. She’s really good at talking to people.”

So, it turns out, is Nina. In addition to leading the clean energy initiative, she single-handedly talked the school district into agreeing to stop using styrofoam in its cafeterias.

At first, when presented with the overarching clean energy commitment ambitions, members of the school board and the district’s facility managers reacted exactly as you’d expect grownups to react when students ask to set their goals for them.

“There was a lot of pushback,” said Tess, “especially once we’d established a firm date (2030 for overall sustainable clean energy; 2040 for all transportation sectors).”

The main objection? “Money, for sure,” said Nina. “Eventually, there will be a net positive from renewable energy, but not upfront.”

She then added, sympathetically, “It’s hard when you’re a board member and you’re running for reelection. People are looking at your here and now decisions, not at what’s going to happen in 10 years.”

To demonstrate that considerable public support was out there, the students used social media to collect 500 signatures on a petition they presented to the board. They also got endorsements from Park City Mayor Andy Beerman and the Summit County Council.

That seemed to do the trick. By the time the resolution was scheduled for a vote at the school board meeting this past Aug. 28, the students were cautiously optimistic. Nina, Tess and Montana attended the meeting with fingers crossed. They relaxed and uncrossed them when the vote in favor was unanimous.

And how did the faces of climate change celebrate their triumph?

“Walked outside and breathed the air,” said Nina. “It’s still clean, for now.”

Correction: A previous version incorrectly stated the Park City School District was committed to transforming to an entirely non-fossil-fuel bus fleet inside of 19 years. The district has committed to setting a goal to study how to transform into a non-fossil-fuel bus fleet sometime in the future.