By 2021 Spring Intern, Shivani Sidh
This spring, I had the opportunity to do an internship at Maryland League of Conservation Voters. I chose to work with the organization because I’m interested in climate justice: resolving the environmental, ethical, and equity issues created by climate change.
Addressing the complex issue of environmental justice can seem challenging, especially for high school students who want to get involved in the fight for climate change. However, one opportunity for involvement is closer and simpler than expected. High schoolers can use their position as students to create change by working for school bus electrification, a campaign that aims to transition fleets from diesel to electric school buses.
While school buses are an efficient method of transport, most are powered by diesel, which has adverse effects on children and the atmosphere. Each day, countless children travel on diesel buses to attend school. In comparison to someone riding in a car, a child in a diesel school bus may be exposed to as much as four times the level of toxins. Diesel emits carcinogens and particulate matter, which can exacerbate common breathing conditions such as asthma. It’s significant to note that minority children have higher asthma rates in comparison to their white counterparts. Diesel emissions also cause an increased risk for a multitude of illnesses ranging from cancer to heart disease.
Diesel holds an additional risk to the environment, as in addition to the toxins, it releases a variety of pollutants (such as CO2 and nitrogen oxides). The health and well being of children and the environment should not be compromised by something as common as a school bus.
Students can encourage the transition to cleaner transportation by educating themselves on the severity of climate change, signing petitions, and reaching out to elected officials. Students can also work with teams, possibly joining organizations like Maryland LCV and participating in their efforts, creating environmental clubs, and reaching out to the transportation department for their respective schools.
There are currently a number of avenues for school districts to start transitioning their fleets from diesel to electric that range from from federal grant programs and loans to utility investment, financing strategies and vehicle-to-grid technology. Maryland LCV’s Chispa program supported a state bill that intended to launch a pilot project to electrify school bus fleets in Maryland districts. Unfortunately, the bill did not pass through the Senate, but Maryland LCV and its partners intend to re-address the issue in the next legislative session.
Some Maryland school districts are creating their own solutions to begin the deployment of electric school buses and practice sustainability. Montgomery County recently approved a contract to lease 326 electric buses, a model that can be used to eventually electrify the entire bus fleet. Additionally, in March of 2021, Prince George’s County Public Schools became the first to commit to a Net Zero Emissions plan. They vowed that by 2040 their transportation would be “fully clean”.
Hopefully, with student help, the efforts of environmental groups, and the work of legislators, all Maryland diesel school buses will be replaced by 2030.
If you are a high school student interested in advocating for electric buses at your school, please let us know. We would love to help you in your efforts! Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org