Celebrate Community: Out go the lights

West High class takes up climate change cause
2010-03-22T00:00:00Z Celebrate Community: Out go the lightsBRETT FRENCH Of The Gazette Staff The Billings Gazette
March 22, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Genevieve Polkowske and her class want you to be in the dark, but only for an hour. Then they’d like you to see the light.

Polkowske, a Spanish teacher at Billings West High School, encouraged one of her classes last spring to get involved in Earth Hour, a worldwide one-hour blackout at 8:30 p.m. local time March 27. In its fourth year, the event is meant to draw attention to climate change and show that individual, local conservation measures can have an effect globally.

Sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund, the event last year is believed to have involved nearly 1 billion people in 4,100 cities and 87 countries on seven continents. This year, Montana has signed on as an official state sponsor. It joins corporations such as Wells Fargo and celebrities such as New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady. Polkowske’s class is one of only two listed as school participants in Montana on the Earth Hour Web site.

Spreading the word

“The little things we do can have an impact,” said Sam Sticka, 17, a senior. “Little things can make a difference.”

Sticka had the winning T-shirt design that many of the class members wore last Wednesday — a clock with its hands pointed at 8:30 screened on a black T-shirt with the words “El Apagón Patrol B.W.H.S.” in spring green across the top. “El apagón” is Spanish for blackout. On the back, Earth Hour is spelled out in different languages below the date 3-27-10.

Ryan Marcotte, a 17-year-old junior, said the T-shirts are a great way to make people aware of Earth Hour.

“A lot of people will ask what the shirt is about, and it gives us a reason to tell them about our cause and what we support,” Marcotte said.

The class of about 30 students also created a Facebook page, which now has 78 friends, dedicated to El Apagón.

Acting locally

Polkowske became aware of Earth Hour through a fellow Spanish teacher.

“South America is very active in this project,” she said, listing a half-dozen countries. A West student who went to Uruguay said there were television advertisements in that country promoting involvement. Polkowske’s daughter, Stacy, a graduate in environmental studies now living in Oregon, also encouraged her mother to get involved.

The students took to the idea, encouraging local businesses, government officials, other students and their parents to get involved.

“My mom was really open to the idea, she’s really for it,” said Travis Woodley, 17. He said they also recycle their newspapers as a way to reduce their ecological footprint.

Other students discovered they are ecologically mindful in other ways — by buying local foods at the summer farmers’ market, by helping their family raise a garden, by walking or biking instead of driving an automobile and by turning lights and other electronic devices off when they leave a room. Karissa Ketterling, 17, said her family lives in an Energy Star-approved house, a certification for homes built to conserve resources.

“We should have done this with the lights off,” she said of the class interview.

Thinking globally

Thinking about small things they could do to help the environment also helped the students ponder changes they could make on a larger scale. Would they support higher gasoline taxes if they curbed automobile travel? Would they back coal extraction in Eastern Montana if it meant increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere?

“I think you need to find the right balance, without hurting the environment, too,” said Mark Archilla, 17.

Sticka agreed.

“We need to rely less on fossil fuels and slowly take ourselves off that,” she said. “Our society is addicted to them and we need to find a way to reduce that.”

Polkowske reminded the students that any changes they make could affect her grandchildren and theirs.

“I think if we’re going to make some changes everyone needs to make some sacrifices,” Marcotte said. “We can’t conserve energy and keep the same society.”

Contact Brett French at french@billingsgazette.com or at 657-1387.

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