2013 NFP Scholarship Essay Winners

The Nebraska Peace Foundation awarded $500 scholarships to the two winners of its 2013 Peace & Justice essay contest. The winning essays by Cailyn Ludwig of Westside High School in Omaha who will be attending Purdue University and Andrew Penry of Milford High School who will be attending the University of South Dakota are reprinted in full below. Cailyn’s essay focuses on NFP’s Environmental Priority and Andrew’s focuses on the immigration issue of our Civil Rights Priority.

Cailyn B. Ludwig

One of the Nebraskans for Peace priorities is the environment and the impact of climate change. Although we cannot do anything about the past, we can do something about the future. The most important and simple thing for people to do to decrease their effect on the environment is choose an eco-friendly way of living. Nebraska is the perfect place for wind or solar energy with our vast areas of land; however, it is important that urban areas contribute to the cause as well.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), buildings account for 72 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption. The U.S. also contributes to 39 percent of the total CO2 emissions in the world. Through education and understanding that buildings are the largest contributor of energy and pollution in the nation and the world, our society can make a difference in the total for future years. By implementing a system that allows for families and owners to lead green friendly lives in their homes, it will help create a better tomorrow and save our environment.

To start with, the government should provide a state tax decrease for those homes displaying ‘eco-friendly’ systems including less energy usage, solar panels as well as smaller energy appliances. The tax decrease would depend on how much less energy, water or electricity is from a home or apartment that is not eco-friendly and of similar nature. For example, those homes that qualify as LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “Platinum” certification would receive a higher tax decrease than those having a LEED “Silver” one. This system would give standards overlooked by the EPA.

The second procedure that people would follow to implement my approach would be to follow the LEED Certification standards to include eco-friendly appliances, paints, materials and systems. This information could be found online on the “U.S. Green Building Council” website. After finding what they should include in their house, they would then either build their green house or add the necessary materials into their current home. Some examples of items that one would include in their house could include low-VOC paint and carpets, energy-efficient appliances, windows, doors and heating systems. There are many types of heating systems that could be described as eco-friendly. A passive solar heating system, for example, takes advantage of the sun’s light. If included with large south-facing windows and deciduous trees, optimal energy conservation will be achieved.

One of the most important behaviors that will be attained when creating an environmentally friendly home is the idea that people are making a difference in the world. If homeowners implement this approach to the environment, then they will not only be affecting a way of life for future generations but also their own way of life. Maintaining a LEED-certified house not only is energy-efficient, but also cost-efficient. A geo-thermal heat system has a 60 percent energy decrease, lasts for 25 years and saves the average home owner $1,500 a year (Hugh Perry, Building or Buying Your Sustainable Home).

With an additional tax incentive to green building, the cost of green living keeps decreasing as builders and buyers find easier ways to make green products. According to the “Energy Independence Act,” light bulbs will have to be 70 percent more efficient in the year 2020. These incentives, as well as the fact that it is easy to find eco-friendly home products throughout the country, make for an easy way to save the environment in our own homes. However, there are some obstacles that can occur through this process.

Even though the appliances and systems involved in a house can save energy over a lifetime, they are expensive to begin with. The cost of some of these materials may provide a setback to funding an eco-friendly home in some communities. Providing a loan system for home owners with the intention to build or re-construct an eco-friendly home, however, would prevent these expenses from getting in the way of the retrofit. In the same vein, state government needs to be willing to support individual efforts to reduce CO2 emissions rate by authorizing tax breaks for those with green friendly certifications. The state of Nebraska has numerous tax breaks for non-profit, commercial and residential projects; however, the extent to the tax breaks is unknown.

An obstacle that the government will naturally run into developing these incentives is deciding what amount of water, appliance, material or energy efficiency will count for what tax break. The process of establishing these terms could take a few years. However, after deciding, the process would become virtually obstacle-free. This would mean that the agency involved for determining these standards could hand out tax breaks after looking at the house in question.

To evaluate how realistic this approach is, one would have to look at the previous record. The tax-incentive approach is not new, though LEED certifications have not been as strong in Nebraska or Midwestern states as on the East or West coasts. However, these standards are not difficult to implement and the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Business College has LEED Platinum certification. It should be an achievable goal for at least 25 percent of Nebraska residents to cooperate and abide by these standards set by state government.

Overall, although this home-centered solution might not be the most radical solution to our carbon emissions problem, it is a solution that will provide effective results for years to come.

Andrew V. Penry

Today in the United States of America, millions upon millions of illegal immigrants from all over the world are living within our borders. Many immigrants cross the border in hope of finding a job to send money back home to their families. A few come in hope of achieving the ‘American Dream’ and to better their lives. Some leave their lives behind in their country in order to escape escalating violence and crime. As Americans, placing ourselves in an illegal immigrant’s shoes is difficult because many of us have never known the poverty that they have experienced. One way we can help illegal immigrants—those who came here willingly and unwillingly—is to assist them toward a path to citizenship. Allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens has previously been done American history, and will be done in the future with the DREAM Act.

The newest bill to create a path to citizenship is the DREAM Act. The “Development, Relief, Education of Alien Minors Act” was first introduced in 2001, and then reintroduced in 2009 by a bipartisan effort. The DREAM Act is intended to help the children of parents who came into the United States illegally. Certain requirements must be met in order to qualify for citizenship through the DREAM Act. The candidate must have entered the United States before their 16th birthday and graduated from a high school, obtained a GED, or be enrolled in a school of higher learning such as a college or a trade school. The candidate for citizenship also must be under the age of 30 and must not have any criminal convictions. Passing the DREAM Act would be beneficial to those illegal immigrants who did not have a choice in coming into the United States. The DREAM Act would be a step in the right direction towards immigration reform in the United States. Great as this may sound, however, a number of obstacles are in the way.

One is Capitol Hill. Opponents of the DREAM Act say that this bill is unfair to those who came into this country legally and will hurt American society. Those affected by this bill did not have a choice to come into this country, and rather than hurting this country would make this country better. Traditionally, Republicans oppose immigration reform for anything of this magnitude—although if some bipartisanship is shown, the DREAM Act will pass. This approach is realistic, and has in fact been done before by both Republican and Democratic presidents.

In 1986, Ronald Reagan created a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants when he signed the “Immigration Reform and Control Act” (IRCA) into law. This new law gave illegal immigrants an option to apply for amnesty if they had been living in the United States prior to 1982. The IRCA allowed amnesty for almost three million illegal immigrants living in the United States. Kate Raynor reports in “Amnesty for illegal Immigrants” that the “Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act” (NACRA), signed in 1997, granted amnesty to nearly one million illegal immigrants who came from Central American countries. The “Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act Amnesty” (HRIFA) gave amnesty to 125,000 illegal immigrants from Haiti in 1998. During the last few decades, numerous laws granting amnesty to illegal immigrants from several different countries have been signed. These laws were passed by both political parties. Ronald Reagan, Republican, in 1986, and Bill Clinton, Democrat, in 1997 and 1998. A path towards citizenship has been created before, and the program was successful. The laws passed helped millions of people achieve the American Dream.

Granting a path towards citizenship is a realistic approach for this country. Certain qualifications must be met in order to qualify for the program. Washington gridlock is an obstacle to passage, but with Ronald Reagan—the most conservative president of all time—passing similar legislation, the future looks bright. Despite the current partisanship, hopefully those opposed can see the severity of the existing restrictions and begin to open their hearts up for the millions in need. As Americans, most of us do not put ourselves in their shoes and do not know what struggles they go through. Passing this legislation would send a signal of peace and welcome to all persons looking to make it in America.

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