2017 NFP Scholarship Essay Winners

Addie Pogreba

Lincoln, NE
1st Congressional District
Norris High School
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Turn It Green

The increased rate of human activity has greatly affected the world and its climate. Some may say that humans don’t have much to do with global warming, but they’re just in denial. According to Dr. Harwood, a geologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, there was a steady rate of carbon dioxide emission up until the peak of humanity began. That rate then spiked, and the parts per million of carbon dioxide released have never been higher. There is a direct relationship between human activity and the increased rate of carbon dioxide emission. The human race can’t undo everything they’ve already done, but there are many simple things the average household can do in order to steer the environment back to its healthy self.

Promotion and education is something that needs to be improved in the area of environmental studies. The environment is something that I am very passionate about, as well as writing. In my future, I would like to become a more knowledgeable woman in the area of environmental studies or applied climate change, and translate that scientific information into something for the public to see and digest. The biggest issue with climate change today is denial. Many people ignore the fact that our Earth is indeed warming, and call it all a ‘hoax’. The science behind this clearly proves otherwise, and admitting is the first step. By acknowledging climate change, people can become more aware about this issue and begin to make changes to their everyday lives. Some of these actions are as simple as recycling and turning traditional heating and cooling systems over to geothermal systems.

With the amount of science being conducted each day across the world, somebody is bound to find good alternatives for energy, transportation, household appliances, etc. In an article titled, “Power to the People” by William McKibben, many of these alternative options are explored, and in the end, he has a good proposal for a solution. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says “‘Typical’ annual CO2 emissions of 8,049 pounds per household based on national average monthly consumption of 5,583 cubic feet of gas.” (Household Emissions). That number can easily be decreased like simple things such as recycling. Recycling helps reduce pollution caused by waste. Many products are made with harmful chemicals that, when burned, release bad greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Recycling essentially takes the same amount of work as throwing trash away, except one must categorize it in a different bin. On top of recycling, many homeowners can make other small changes to turn their homes green.

Geothermal systems are environmentally friendly systems used for heating and cooling, and are actually much cheaper. These systems use renewable energy, which benefits the environment in many ways. Systems that use geothermal heating take thermal energy from below the ground, so as long as the Earth’s core burns, this way of heating will be around. Many people today use fossil fuels to run their heating and cooling systems, but once those resources are gone, they’re gone. A high percentage of energy used to heat or cool a house with geothermal energy is renewable. Not only do they use renewable energy, but they use clean energy.

The use of geothermal heating and cooling systems produces nearly very few emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions are one of the leading causes of global warming, and traditional systems also have the potential of releasing poisonous carbon monoxide. With geothermal systems, there is no fuel being burned so the risk of carbon monoxide is demolished. These systems are the first step to a greener world that we so desperately need.

Taking the step to install or purchase these systems is a success in itself. Right now, a lot of people are switching over to geothermal systems, but many still have traditional heating and cooling systems. The process of switching is definitely a benefit; it uses clean, renewable energy, and it costs less. There is no apparent reason why many homeowners should not switch to geothermal heating and cooling systems. Promotion and action are the first steps in creating a better world!

My dream would be to be able to promote these systems and help make sense of them to the public. By doing this, people could better understand the issue that we face today, and how crucial it is that action takes place. Many people could indeed still be skeptical, but if there is evidence to back up this dilemma, many people could come around and realize the effects of global warming.

Global warming isn’t going to slow down for the human race. The human race needs to become more active and aware in saving our environment. Whether that be done in one big step or baby steps, each action counts and, in the end, makes a difference. There’s only one planet Earth, and we best not take it for granted before it’s too late.

Dylan Miettinen
Elkhorn, NE  
2nd Congressional District
Elkhorn High School
University of Minnesota – Twin Cities

The Nebraskans for Peace priority with the largest personal connection for me is Priority #2, focused on Civil Rights and Economic Justice. I wish that there were a singular solution to all of the problems that plague disenfranchised minorities; however, I know that that is an unrealistic dream of mine. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I recognize the work yet to be done to ensure true equality. Although the LGBTQ+ community has made leaps and bounds in the past several decades, especially in recent years with the passage of marriage equality thanks to Obergefell v. Hodges, there is a necessity for an expansion of legal protections for LGBTQ+ individuals. In addition, it’s of utmost importance that legislation be put in place to better race relations, abolish the death penalty, and diminish the taking advantage of minority populations, especially Native Americans.

I believe that the best way to further the resolution of these important issues is, first and foremost, education. For example, at a school and community level, I am a founder of Elkhorn’s Tolerance, Equality, and Acceptance (TEA) Club. The club’s aim is to, as stated in its bylaws, “create a judgement-free, safe environment for all students, (regardless of gender expression or sexuality), to develop a sense of school-wide acceptance, and to promote tolerance and acceptance of difference.” Each week, I facilitate lesson plans aimed at combating homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, or xenophobia. I believe that the highest result of education truly is tolerance. I have grown to see a greater sense of acceptance of differences fostered by my peers. One of my teachers recently said to me, “I think you’ve really changed the tone of this school.” I believe that similar approaches can be instated at all societal levels, with similar results.

Education must be delivered at every age level. Implementing more inclusive curriculum—for example, books written by authors from diverse backgrounds with an array of diverse characters—would increase the perceived notion that diversity and difference is the norm. Diverse guest speakers would do the same, and cement the truth that compassion, virtue, and personal difficulties are not things that are associated with a single race, sexuality, or gender identity; these themes are universal. This emphasis for inclusive education should only grow with education level.

However, I believe that the time frame most critical to personal growth and development is young adulthood. That is when political affiliations, biases, and prejudices are honed and refined by parents, educators, and media. At that point, inclusive education should be not just textual but should be more hands-on and interactive. For example, students should attend conferences and seminars, such as the Anti-Defamation League’s Prejudice-Elimination Workshop, that allow students to work alongside other youth to problem-solve by way of discussion and active listening.

It is far easier to construct worlds without walls and barriers from the ground up; it is far more difficult to break those barriers down. That being said, I believe that the largest obstacle for implementing positive change is persuading older generations, whose views may have been shaped by old-fashioned perspectives that may be now seen as prejudicial. It may be more difficult to have civil discussions with those who refuse to listen. For those stubborn individuals, I believe, it is easiest to sway beliefs when empathy can be at play. For example, an elderly person whose granddaughter is transgender may be more willing to accept LGBTQ+ individuals and protections for those peoples. A man who may volunteer at rehabilitation facilities or who participates in Alcoholics Anonymous may be more empathetic towards legislation aimed at protecting Native people afflicted with alcoholism, such as those on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation lured by the unethical and illegal alcohol distribution practices taking place in Whiteclay, Nebraska. An individual who lives in a predominantly black neighborhood may be more willing to have active dialogues about the importance and effects of race. Empathy grows with personal connection.

It may be nearly impossible to sway the opinions of those who have no personal affiliation with an issue. Creative solutions are possible, however. Education and seminars may be beneficial at retirement communities, populations who vote heavily. Contrastingly, utilization of social media has the power to impact younger generations. I hope to pursue a career in journalism, and, as such, I am cognizant of the role that media can have in shaping ideologies and, therefore, support or condemnation of certain legislation. The publishing of news stories that profile wrongly convicted death row inmates, the struggles of immigrants, and women who may be victims of rape or who choose the difficult decision to have an abortion may sway the beliefs of people with strongly held convictions. I also do not underestimate the power of cinematography. Documentaries and movies have the power to move mountains. Stories, whether the written word or visual tales, shed light on the truest forms of humanity and instill a sense of interconnectedness with its subjects with which readers or viewers can empathize.

My approach to reform of civil rights and economic justice is centered around education and empathy. In theory, my approach starts at the individual level and proliferates; this personal theory of acceptance is then reflected in legislation and tangible change. The largest obstacle is individual stubbornness and pride. In that sense, I believe that my approach is realistic in that it entails personal growth and simply going the extra mile. It involves talking, even if it is uncomfortable. In this case, conversations do, indeed, lead to change.

Aurora Fowler 
Gibbon, NE
3rd Congressional District
Minden High School
Nova Southeastern University

The Nebraskans for Peace priority I chose to write about is climate change. Of all the social issues facing our generation, climate change by far poses the greatest risk to the most people. No one will escape from the consequences of our warming planet, regardless of socioeconomic status. However, the most disadvantaged members of our society will be impacted the hardest as they will not have the resources to relocate or offset the negative impacts to their homes, businesses, and workplaces. It is out of these reasons and my own personal passion for combatting climate change on behalf of the planet’s biodiversity, that I would propose a neighborhood-based approach to change.

Despite the climate-denial rhetoric of our current president, I feel that most Americans believe that the burning of fossil fuels is having a catastrophic impact on our atmosphere and accelerating climate change. While most accept our role in climate change, most also feel helpless to make any impact. The issue feels too big and to change the current course of the climate feels like we would need to change everything we do. When we turn on the lights in the house or adjust the thermostat, we may think about where our energy comes from, but most of us don’t feel like we can change that.

The need for clean, renewable energy sources is great. Considerable investments in research, technology, and infrastructure have made renewable energy an achievable goal for our country. Yet, here at home, our public power provider, Nebraska Public Power District, set a meager goal of attaining 10 percent of the energy it distributes from renewable sources by 2020. Like many things in life, it is easy to be complacent and challenging to be an active force for change. My plan would take the opportunity for change into people’s homes among their friends and neighbors.

To activate the voter and consumer base in order to pressure Nebraska Public Power District to aggressively increase its renewable energy commitment, I propose a “Green Outlets Campaign.” The effort would be a grassroots, feel good, positive, community-based education and outreach effort. A coalition of organizations, agencies, and businesses would be created to build the foundation for the education campaign. At the heart of the effort would be a Green Outlets Campaign Host Kit. The cost of producing the kits would be underwritten by the coalition and possibly other private funders. These kits would contain everything a host would need to hold a Green Outlets Party at their home.

The ‘Green Out-Lets Party’ is a hosted social gathering of friends and neighbors to learn about renewable energy and how to activate to create a better future. Through the provided kit, the host would have access to a list of experts from organizations, agencies, and businesses who can attend Green Out-Lets Parties. The social gathering could be a backyard barbecue, a bridge club gathering, or a block party. At the party, participants can learn about three things: First they can get good information on how they can be a wise energy consumer. Second, they can learn about our public power company and their role as constituents of the elected officials on that board. Finally, they will learn about how to influence NPPD’s energy commitment. At the end of the party, the host would ask the guests to make a clean energy pledge by taking action and provide all the guests with a take-home packet that includes everything they need to activate. Included in the take-home packet would be green outlet covers that they can put up at home to signify their commitment to renewable energy sources.

The structure of the neighborhood party is one that has been used by many organizations and causes to dispense information and motivate change. It takes advantage of established networks to disseminate information and taps into the credibility we afford our friends to motivate us to join an effort. Some of the challenges of this structure is that in more economically depressed communities or neighborhoods, it may be challenging to find people willing to host parties. I think one way to overcome this obstacle is to partner with the faith community in the Green Out- Lets Party Campaign effort. Churches could easily host social gatherings, like carry-in dinners, for their members and the neighborhood. These would be places people felt comfortable in already. Many faith communities are already aligned closely with green movements. Houses of worship in the poorest neighborhoods often fill the role of being a place where people can get information, aid and counsel. This makes churches a good choice for hosting Green Outlets Parties.

I believe this approach to activating the voter base to pressure Nebraska Public Power District to increase their renewable energy commitment and cut out the coal would be effective. It has been complacency that has allowed our dependency on coal to continue. By creating an easy model to activate large numbers of people, I think we could see a significant shift away from complacency to action. My mom attended an information session about renewable energy hosted by the Sierra Club and a NPPD board member was there. She said while the session was really good, there were only a handful of people there. Everyone loves getting together with their friends and neighbors to enjoy good food, good conversation, and beautiful Nebraska evenings. What better way to get the word out and put a little peer pressure into the movement, than hosting a Green Out-Lets Party!

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