Speaking out against coal, another perspective

On Sept. 26, Ben Rayhill gave testimony to the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission about IPL's 97 million dollar request to upgrade the Petersburg coal plant. This request essentially commits this plant to burning coal for the decades ahead, a decision that ensures our already changing climate will continue to get worse. Here is his testimony:

I am 15 and a sophomore at the International School of Indiana. I am a Climate Camper and over this year I will by joining the youth of Indiana to fight climate change. People say that renewable energy is the future and I agree but I believe that renewable energy is something the world needs now.  

The clock is ticking; climate change is now and there will be consequences.

Indiana has taken great steps in getting off of coal in Marion County and Morgan County and the news broke on the 23rd of September that Hamilton County school district is switching to solar power.

This investment into the AES Petersburg coal burning power plant is taking a step back from the progress that we have made in the recent years and if we are going to become a state that is in the 21st century we need a world-class energy plan. I hope that IPL will consider taking the 100 million dollars and investing it into energy that is renewable, while also providing better air and water quality.

The real reason that I am so passionate about climate change as a whole is because I want my future to be in a world that is green and full of life. I want to be able to show my kids New York City above water. I want to be able to take my kids to the zoo and see a polar bear in real life and not just read about them in books. I want my kids to grow up in a world where they can breath clean air and drink clean water, and live a life surrounded by nature and life. If climate change is not fixed, that horror will become a reality.

Indiana has improved greatly over the last couple of years and IPL has been a part of the progress that Indiana has made in lowering our carbon footprint. I ask IPL to make Indiana a state of renewable energy. I believe that we can do it.

Please, for my generation, for my children and their children, do not invest money into coal.

Speaking out against coal to #actonclimate

On Sept. 26, Maddie Brooks gave testimony to the Indiana Utilities Regulatory Commission about IPL's 97 million dollar request to upgrade the Petersburg coal plant. This request essentially commits this coal plant to burning coal for the decades ahead, a decision that ensures our already changing climate will continue to get worse. Here is her testimony:

I started high school at Herron High School in August of 2015. Ever since, I haven’t had a grade lower than a B. I work hard to keep my grades up. I work hard to be a good student, but lately I’ve asked myself “What’s the point if all of my hard work is being put into nothing that’ll matter?”

Indianapolis Power and Light has made an initiative to stop the burning of coal in both Morgan and Marion counties, but soon they’re going to begin asking their customers to pay up nearly 100 million dollars to help keep open their coal-burning AES-Petersburg plant, which is one of Indiana’s biggest polluters.

According to the Environmental Integrity Project, it’s the third worst water polluter in the nation for arsenic and fifth worst for lead. It spews out more toxic air pollution than any other power plant in Indiana, It’s the third worst carbon-polluting power plant in Indiana, with 11 million tons of greenhouse gases in 2014, and the plant has also been cited numerous times for violating the Clean Air Act, but not only did they violate the Clean Air Act, they violated the security of my future.

Indianapolis is my city, it’s where I call home. Is the city where I live supposed to have associations with businesses who are out to destroy my future for their convenience? And it’s not only my future at stake, it’s my siblings’ and my friends’ futures. My cousins' and the kids' down the street future. IPL should not want to keep pouring money into this deathtrap of a factory.

All I’m asking of the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission and the Office of the Utility Consumer Counselor is to stand up for kids like me -- here in Indiana and around the world -- and reject this plan from Indianapolis Power and Light to keep spending money on dangerous coal technology.


#JustTrayNo makes a big difference

In the past few months, students at Sidener Academy, joined by a student from IPS School 84, have greatly impacted Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) by advocating for a more environmentally-friendly lunch tray. Since 2007, IPS has been using disposable polystyrene trays that were discarded into landfills. Using a STEM approach, these fifth graders created a power point to convince IPS, starting with Superintendent Lewis Ferebee, to make the change. On May 26, IPS at a School Board meeting, announced the moved to environmentally-friendly lunch trays. Now that's Youth Power in action!


#JustTrayNo celebrates their victory on May 26.

#JustTrayNo celebrates their victory on May 26.

Climate Camp: a new determination to make our future better

By Julia McKenna

In Lakeville, Indiana, hidden behind a buzzing highway, past an old grey pencil factory and an empty Speedway gas station, settled in between dusty corn farms, and roads filled with potholes, sits Prairie Winds Nature Farm. A startling change in the monotone scenery on Osborne Road, Prairie Winds Nature Farm is eighty-five acres of restored wetlands and woods, formerly an expansive corn and soybean field, that now functions as a learning farm for children. Here, green pastures are dotted with animals, the red barn smells of hay and earth, and the blue pond trickles back into endless acres of woods, which wind lazily into golden yellow fields of prairie. The garden is overflowing with nearly everything you could imagine, and they have a rope swing in the hayloft. Everything from the beehives to the chicken coop is as serene and natural as you can get.

Climate Camp included a quick dip in the pond at Prairie Winds Nature Farm.

Climate Camp included a quick dip in the pond at Prairie Winds Nature Farm.

Charlotte and Robert Wolfe own and operate this farm, and have dedicated their lives to educating people about nature, food, sustainability, and so much more. I was fortunate enough to attend a school where we visited this farm on a weekly basis, and so from a very young age, I was introduced to a whole different kind of learning. As I got older, I started to work as a counselor for the farm’s summer camp, eager to continue Charlotte and Robert’s teachings. I loved the time I spent there, learning how to garden, tend to livestock, identify native species, and connect with the earth. I reveled in each opportunity to get to be in this beautiful space.

This summer, I came across a chance for me to be a student at the farm again, going to a Climate Camp at Prairie Winds Farm. I was quick to sign up, though I had never been to a Climate Camp before, and was eager to attend. Jim Poyser, a climate change activist with an amazing sense of humor, and a love of working with kids, decided to host his annual teen climate camp at Charlotte’s farm. Through past work at my school, Jim and I were already acquainted, and I was able to help recruit other kids to come along with me.

Though I had a very vague idea about what climate camp would entail, in the middle of July, I packed my bag for camping, and set out for the farm. Upon my arrival early that morning, I was met with a circle of smiling faces, some familiar and some new, resting crosslegged in a patch of trees. What followed was to be my favorite camp I have ever attended.

Being in such a serene place, where I felt almost obligated to soak up the world around me was the best platform for a climate camp anyone could ask for. There, in our musty substitute classroom comprised of wooden benches, a projector, and a pull down white screen, my mind wandered off into a new world where my ideas were important, and fixing the world didn’t feel as daunting as it should.

The afternoon was spent listening to engaging presentations about climate change, given by fellow teenagers from the Indianapolis area. Their presentations really focused on the fact that if no steps are taken soon to stop polluting the earth, weather will become far more dramatic, the polar ice caps will continue to melt, causing ocean levels to rise, and floods to occur. Animal species will be wiped out, the average temperature will rise, and our planetary ecosystems will be left in disarray. These presentations really opened my eyes to how much of a problem we really do have at hand.

My passion to create change started to burn even more furiously than I had felt in the past. A dreaded thought came into my mind; what if the world comes to a state of such disarray, that kids won’t be able to have places like this farm? What if it already has? What if no one was ever able to experience the exuberance I feel when I am at Charlotte’s farm? We discussed politicians, and the role they have, but mainly haven’t, been taking in this extremely important issue. We talked about what kids can do to make a difference: writing letters to congressmen and women, making every day life more sustainable, and encouraging others to take action. Thoughts started swarming in my head, right there, in that two car garage, I decided that this was the most important dilemma the future is to face.  

Climate Campers suit up to check out the bees.

Climate Campers suit up to check out the bees.

We then gave a tour around the farm, showing them the barn, the woods, the prairie, all the beautiful assets this farm has to offer. After handling the baby goats and hiking out to the rope swing, we spent time horseback riding, hiking, and swimming in the pond. It is always important for those who are working as a team to first get to know each other at a personal level, and by touring the farm, we also got to experience what a natural, sustainable place feels like. After more discussions, we took to the gardens, baskets in hand, ready to create an entirely local, organic dinner. Supper was delicious, consisting of vegetable and beef stew, cucumber salad, a berry crisp, fried potatoes, and homemade bread. Our campfire became the space where we listened to each other’s stories, eager to hear how each person became involved in sustainability. Stories eventually drifted into dreams, as we headed to our tents for bed.

The next morning, as the sun began to drip yellow through the trees, we ate a local, organic breakfast, the perfect way to start our second -and last- day of climate camp. We spent the morning watching videos, as the weather didn’t permit much outdoor time.

My personal favorite was a video documenting the process of getting the very first Climate Change Recovery Ordinance passed in Eugene, Oregon. A smile slid across my face as I realized: the people who had this ordinance passed were children. Kids just like me, in a town just like mine. Suddenly, I found myself enthralled with the idea of creating the same type of ordinance in my hometown, South Bend, Indiana. I knew it would never be easy, as there are always plenty of roadblocks in any attempt to pass a new law, but I floated the idea to Mr. Poyser anyway. He grabbed on just as quickly as I had formed the plan. To be clear, this has not happened yet, but like any good idea, is still in the making. My friends were just as enthusiastic as I was, and a meeting is set to take place this fall with any community members who want to get the ball rolling.

Maddie, left, from Indianapolis, and the author, Julia, on the right, prepare locally sourced food for dinner.

Maddie, left, from Indianapolis, and the author, Julia, on the right, prepare locally sourced food for dinner.

After what felt like my personal epiphany, we were joined by another friend of ours, Kathy Sipple, who runs her own podcast. We spent a half hour recording a segment for her, talking about Prairie Winds Farm, and all the things that people are doing - including us - to preserve the beautiful spaces we still have left, and to ensure that they are still there in years to come.

My climate change activism didn’t exactly start there, it didn’t end there either, but it certainly has filled me with a new determination to make our future better. It left me pouring over websites, hastily writing emails, and submitting this article. It was there, on the golden, pristine farm, that I realized that this IS my future, but it’s us who has to shape it. The pencil factory seemed to flutter past as my new sense of hope blurred out the rest of the ride.

For more on this Climate Camp experience, go here.


How to create your own sustainability conference

Editor's note: The following is a report by Good Shepherd Montessori School student Julia McKenna. We share in hopes that you'll be inspired to throw your own conference!

Good Shepherd Montessori School is a small school in South Bend, Indiana serving children ages three to fourteen, where there is a unique sense of community and connection to the earth. Arriving in second grade, I felt welcome in this open, loving environment, and I have continued to feel at home ever since. What I didn’t learn until Junior High though, was how a community is built, and how the community members stay connected to each other and to the earth.

Every year our seventh and eighth grade class holds an academic conference where local middle school students and professionals learn and share information about a specific topic. In the first two years, the conference focused on Fundamental Human Rights and World Religions in Theory and Practice, and this year’s topic was Sustainability. We put out a call for papers and invited local schools to participate in the conference, and this year another Montessori school and a homeschool group from our area attended. In past years, the conference has been on a low budget, but this year we were able to provide lunch, a snack, print materials, and give gifts of appreciation to our speakers and professionals, thanks to the generosity of the Ursula Thrush Peace Seed Grant and a sponsorship from the Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values at the University of Notre Dame.

 When I heard the topic for this year was going to be Sustainability, I was quick to sign up for the Academic Committee. Fittingly, I have a particular interest in Jane Goodall and staying connected to the earth. I suggested that we invite her to our conference; I wrote her a letter, and within a few weeks I received a handwritten response. Even though Dr. Goodall was not able to join us, her letter made me feel like the possibilities were endless and this was going to be a great conference.

As part of our preparation for the conference, this year’s committee researched other conferences and even attended Greentown Michiana, a conference dedicated to promoting a more sustainable community in South Bend. Then, with our gathered knowledge, we planned breakout sessions and invited schools and professionals. Each of the twenty-three students in our class and those from other schools chose a topic, did research and created a multi-intelligence project to present at the conference. These were presented alongside other students with similar topics in panel form during breakout sessions. Each presentation had unique links to community-building and growing sustainable connections. A local foods project encouraged participants to get to know farmers from their area, a place-making project hit on creating good public gathering spaces, and all of the presentations encouraged us to care for the spaces in which we live, work, and play.

To stay true to our topic of sustainability and the mission of our school, we wanted to provide a local organic lunch for our guests. We had to work around the school’s hot lunch schedules and account for a large number of attendees, which called for flexibility and planning. With the help of our hot lunch coordinator, we spent multiple afternoons in the fall creating pasta sauce with local organic tomatoes, which we froze until the spring. As the conference date drew closer, we made pesto with fresh basil and an organic alfredo sauce. Paired with whole wheat pasta and spring greens, we created a local, organic pasta bar.

Our South Bend community has an abundance of people working in the sustainability field. We connected with six local experts: Theri Niemier from Bertrand Farms, Charlotte Wolfe from Prairie Winds Nature Farm, Chris Dressel, Planner/Bicycle Coordinator for the City of South Bend, Zachary Schrank and Krista Bailey from Indiana University South Bend, Tyler Kanczuzewski from Inovateus Solar, and Jim Poyser from Earth Charter Indiana. The committee composed emails, set up personal meetings, and worked with the professionals on the presentations and panels before the day of the conference. Many of the professionals have continued to stay connected with us, informing us of local events, and offering great resources for research and learning opportunities.

On Friday, May 2nd, we welcomed over seventy-five students and professionals from the community. During the conference, Theri Niemier gave the keynote speech, which was followed by several panels that included twenty-three student presentations, ranging from walking and biking to nuclear fusion to genetic modification. After lunch we gathered to play Jim Poyser’s Ain’t Too Late climate change game show, an inspirational conclusion to our conference. (To read Jim's take on the conference, go to his blog.)

The conference helped me understand how a community stays connected, and I realized that I had made my own contributions. People in a community are able to learn from each other and share knowledge. They are able to love each other and the environments around them, and to create a safe, peaceful environment for people to persevere and grow. They live and act sustainably, and most of all, they do it all for each other -- to stay connected. Consistent with Good Shepherd Montessori School’s mission, these are all things that “foster world peace and work toward global justice” and create a sustainable, connected community.

–Julia McKenna

7th Grade Student, Good Shepherd Montessori School  |  South Bend, Indiana

Get involved: A Climate Action Plan for Indiana

As you can read from our tagline, we are the sweetspot of climate stewardship and civic leadership. And there is no better example of that than our effort to get a Climate Action Plan for Indiana.

On June 11, YPI director Jim Poyser, Earth Charter Indiana board president Rosemary Spalding, and a half dozen youth (see our Blog section for their testimonials) presented to the Environmental Rules Board at the Government Center in Indianapolis.

Read about the petition preparation in Jim's blog.

Here's the deal. We are in the midst of the beginning of a climate crisis resulting from greenhouse gas pollution. The evidence is already there -- from GHG pollution we emitted decades ago. The pollution we're emitting now will push us into an era -- within decades, perhaps even mere years -- of climate disruption, with extreme weather, food insecurity and health emergencies.

So it's time to get busy now.

Indiana is a great place to work on this! Some of our leaders haven't yet been exposed to the consensus science surrounding climate change, and our energy, transportation and agricultural sectors are heavy polluters. There is great urgency to deal with this, and potential economic benefits, too.

Indiana is one of 16 states in the country that does not have a Climate Action Plan. We aim to change that. We can do that with the leadership of folks like the Environmental Rules Board.

They heard our citizen petition on June 11 and are now considering next steps. We hope they'll grant us a public hearing in the fall so that Hoosiers have the opportunity to step to the mic and say that adopting and implementing a Climate Action Plan is a smart, cautious and courageous act. And something that we need to get started on now.

We need your help.

Sign our petition. Share with your friends. We need to build our numbers!

Read what others had to say in their personal statements.

Get informed. We have lots of documents and links to dig in on learn about what 97% of scientists are saying about our climate crisis.

You can access and browse all these documents here. Read on line or download for yourself!


Sign our petition to get a climate action plan for Indiana!

Click here to sign the petition.

Given global climate change threatens all Hoosiers, we believe our government must take the necessary actions to ensure that our youth and future generations of Hoosiers will inherit a healthy environment.  We support the adoption of a rule in Indiana that establishes a state-wide Climate Action Plan that will: (1) aggressively reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, which accelerate the climate change crisis, (2) pursue long-term solutions, such as energy efficiency, energy conservation and renewable energy resources, to prevent further degradation of our atmosphere while creating quality local jobs and a thriving economy, and (3) help Hoosiers adapt to current impacts of climate change, as well as prepare for future impacts that may be inevitable.

Aquaponics: A teacher’s perspective

The following explanation of aquaponics comes from Oaklandon Elementary School’s Wayne Naylor.

The aquaponics system, built by teacher Wayne Naylor and his students.

The aquaponics system, built by teacher Wayne Naylor and his students.

Students in the Alternative Instruction Classroom (AIS) built the tilapia tank as part of their participation in inquiry learning. Students come to the AIS room because they are struggling in the regular class setting. Normally, this means they are not behaving and thus disrupting the learning for others. Some students spend all day in the room while others attend for a period or two.

One student became passionate about this aquaponics project and has lead it all year long. He has connected his reading and writing to the project by writing instructions on how to feed the fish, care for the fish, and breed them. He also applied his math skills when building the tanks.

At one point in the construction process, I gathered together students who were struggling with math to help measure and build the tanks. In fact, they were failing in their regular math classes. Many students applied math skills to the project, and improved their math acumen.


About half the tank was built from left over pieces of wood lying around in the greenhouse. Our school PFO (parent support group) gave the students about $600 to finish the tank and purchase fish.


• A hands-on authentic project about which students become passionate

• Ignites passion for future scientific investigations

• Research skills sharpened: how to breed fish, what to do with them during the summer, how to create a closed loop system, and how to apply permaculture principals

• No discipline problems when students were working on the aquaponics system

• Students engaged, connected, and invested in the project

Here is an Oaklandon student describing this aquaponics system.


There are countless, non-conventional ways to garden that are very eco-friendly! Growing your own food is very environmentally friendly because it goes right from your backyard onto your plate instead of traveling thousands of miles from farm to a grocery store.

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Creating a hydroponics system at home, at your neighborhood center or in your school can have many advantages!

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Since many schools across the United States have already started a recycling effort, starting a composting effort is a great next step!

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One of the most exciting developments in school-based sustainability technology is creating an aquaponics system.

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The mother of all low hanging fruit actions, starting a recycling program is not as easy as it sounds! And to call it “low hanging fruit” is not to diminish its impact. According to the Indiana Recycling Coalition: Forty-two percent of carbon emissions come from how we procure, produce, deliver and dispose of goods (including food – See: Start a composting system).

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