This week, Naomi Lopez ’26 and her experience empowering students to fight climate change was showcased at Bowdoin’s Social Innovation Week’s Solutions Exhibition. The exhibition’s goal was to highlight creative ways students have addressed real-world problems outside of Bowdoin and featured several student projects centered on social justice. Lopez’s activism served as one of the inspiring examples.
Lopez has had a passion for protecting the planet against climate change since middle school. Her own experiences with the disastrous effects of climate change while growing up in Los Angeles, Calif. motivated her to take action.
“One thing that kept on occurring was our school would get shut down because of wildfires. We had a week-long period where we couldn’t go to school because the air quality was so bad,” Lopez said.
Unable to ignore the magnitude of these events and what they meant for the planet, Lopez and her friend, Sascha Weiss, founded their school’s first environmental justice club. The amount of apathy her classmates showed towards climate change shocked Lopez, who was struck deeply by its dangerous impact on their shared community. She realized the drawn-out debates and lack of action in politics made young people, especially high schoolers who understood the threat of climate change but lacked representation in politics, feel powerless in trying to stop this irreversible damage to the planet.
But Lopez saw how crucial high school students could be as participants in the fight against climate change. High schools, the place where students spend most of their day, emit large amounts of greenhouse gasses and create substantial waste. Lopez wanted her peers to understand that they could impactfully fight climate change on a smaller scale by advocating for eco-friendly policies at their schools.
“Sometimes when we think about climate change, we think of it only as an individual on the individual level, but we don’t think about it on a more medium level of what we can do as a community, as a school and as a neighborhood,” Lopez said.
Lopez began creating a High School Sustainability Guide as a tool for high school students to understand their school’s carbon footprint. She wanted them to see how they could empower themselves, inspire others in their community and lower their school’s impact on the environment.
Lopez used the guide to spark a dialogue around climate change in her hometown—dialogue which eventually led to the creation of a sustainability endowment for her school. However, the impact of the guide was not limited to her own community. After speaking at an international sustainability conference, a network of schools in Kenya contacted Lopez about her climate activism. Lopez was able to visit these schools and see firsthand how schools around the world were using her guide to enact change in their own communities.
“It made me feel really good because I saw [that the guide] is actually something people are seeing, something young people are interested in doing,” Lopez said. “Because of the power of technology, people around the world can actually access [the guide], and it’s relevant to many different people.”
To continue the work that she accomplished in high school, Lopez has continued to advocate for climate change reform at Bowdoin. Currently, she works at the Sustainability Office as an eco rep on the Civic and Community Engagement team. Additionally, she is a member of Sunrise Bowdoin, the College’s branch of the Sunrise Movement, which advocates for the Green New Deal and climate justice.
“I get to work directly with staff at Bowdoin who are involved in the actual work the school is doing. I think my work with my project has given me a good framework of how to think about implementing these sustainable changes,” Lopez said.
Lopez’s passion for raising community awareness provides a framework for the Bowdoin community to assess its own climate impact. Displaying her work at Social Innovation Week’s Exhibition was another way for her to connect with her peers and empower them to join her in protecting the planet.
“They can do something that will actually have a tangible effect,” Lopez said. “Seeing the actual impact our school had on the environment, and then allowing that to motivate ourselves and others to push for sustainable change—it can actually result in something worthwhile.”