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Benefield: Santa Rosa Junior College’s Climate Action Night message is ‘I can do my little bit’

Want to attend?

Climate Action Night will be online 5:30 -7:30 p.m. Thursday. To register and get a Zoom link, go to climateactionnight.com.

The average person isn’t an expert on battery recycling or groundwater fees, so the students and advocates putting on the fourth annual Climate Action Night on Thursday are making themselves experts on everyone’s behalf.

The idea is this: there are 18 topics ranging from bills in the legislature to policies being debated locally, and groups of students and mentors have been studying the issues for weeks, creating presentations and coming up with actions that participants can take to get involved.

The event, co-hosted by Santa Rosa Junior College and Bay Area 350, starts at 5:30 p.m. Thursday. It will again be on Zoom. There will be live Spanish translation. It’s free.

There are no excuses.

The target audience? You.

“It’s your average person who doesn’t have the time to go out and save the world, but is worried,” said an event co-chair, SRJC biology instructor Abigail Zoger. “They come and we can point them to something they can do in 10 minutes and they can make a difference.”

Send an email. Write a postcard. Register for a follow-up event. The presenters will show you the way.

They are small entry points to what feels like an overwhelming problem.

Zoger (somewhat) jokingly calls the format of Climate Action Night, “a science fair of climate change.”

Mentored by advocates and professionals, students from five area high schools, as well as Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State and UC Berkeley, all have topics or issues they take command of.

Students will make presentations about their issue — whether it’s a bill before the California Legislature, a local governance concern or a matter of federal funding — and attendees can jump into that student’s Zoom breakout room and get information.

But, perhaps more importantly, they can walk away with tips and tools for action.

“If you care about an issue, you can really make a difference by going to talk to your Assembly member or state senator,” Zoger said. “And if I want to talk to my city council member, they are not going to turn me away. They just don’t do that.”

There will be three topics per breakout room and things will move quickly, Zoger said.

“So nobody is like death by PowerPoint or Google Slide,” she said.

For the first time in program history, there will be an option for simultaneous Spanish translation.

Sam Stasiowski started working on Climate Action Night last year as a student at the junior college.

He’s still involved, even though he’s now a molecular environmental biology major at UC Berkeley.

His presentation on Thursday will be on concurrent bills in the California legislature — AB2440 and SB1215 — that address battery recycling.

Most folks know not to toss old batteries in the trash, but Stasiowski’s job is to get attendees excited about bills that would require battery producers to make drop-off locations easy and accessible to use.

“It’s going to force battery producers to set up a whole collection system. It would be on producers, they would have to fund the whole thing at a convenient location and at no cost,” he said.

“We are teaching them about the bills so they feel incentivized to want to email their Assembly member or senator,” he said.

Ani Fowler, a graduate of Orchard View School and now a sophomore at the junior college, is presenting on groundwater and pay rates.

Fowler has been involved in every Climate Action Night since they began in 2019.

“It’s a really good opportunity for young people to get involved in climate action, but also to understand about the legislative process,” she said.

For Zoger and co-chair Sunny Galbraith, getting more information out to folks in easy to digest presentations is a boon, but the greatest impact might be on the presenters themselves.

“Sunny and I say, the most important people there are the students who did the work, they are the ones we are making the biggest impact on,” Zoger said.

These are students who are asked to become experts on an issue, to be ready and able to answer questions, to have the knowledge to point people in the right direction.

And after the night, presenters take feedback to policymakers and change makers.

Throughout, students are working with leaders already working in climate action.

Action is a piece of the battle against what Zoger calls “climate grief,” something she said she sees in her students.

But Climate Action Night gives folks a way to address both their grief over the climate crisis, and more importantly, an easy to follow plan of action to take away when the night is over.

“They come because they want to know what they can do. It helps us to know how I can contribute my little bit.”

You can reach Staff Columnist Kerry Benefield at 707-526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @benefield.

Kerry Benefield

Columnist, The Press Democrat

Have a story that is wild, wacky, bizarre or beautiful? Tell me about it. Have a question that starts with, “What’s the deal with…?” Let’s figure it out together. This column is about the story behind the story, a place to shine a light on who we are, what makes us a community and all of the things that make us special. With your help, I'll be tackling the questions that vex us: (the funny, the mundane, and the irritating.)

Want to attend?

Climate Action Night will be online 5:30 -7:30 p.m. Thursday. To register and get a Zoom link, go to climateactionnight.com.

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