Seattle Public Schools becomes first in state committed to phasing out fossil fuels by 2040

SEATTLE, WA – Feb 10, 2021 , The Board of Directors for Seattle Public Schools passed a resolution committing the School District to operate on 100% clean and renewable energy by 2040, which requires eliminating all use of fossil fuels in district electricity, heating, cooling, cooking, and transportation.

The resolution, initiated by Board Directors Zachary DeWolf and Lisa Rivera-Smith, and developed in partnership with a coalition of students, educators, parents, and community groups, is the first of its kind passed by a school district in Washington state.

“Increasing greenhouse gas emissions and pollution have affected our communities greatly due to the poor air quality that we, as students, have been exposed to. However, transitioning to a 100% clean and renewable energy positively impacts the environment students are in, and it helps us learn” ~Ericka Guan, Seattle public schools student

“When Seattle Public Schools students demanded the district do its part to address the climate crisis, we heard them loud and clear and got to work on ideas,” said Seattle School Board Director Zachary DeWolf. “This collaboration not only created a pathway to a sustainable future, it also created community in the process. Thank you to all the students, educators, families, and community members for your fierce and tireless efforts to work on a solution whose impacts will be felt for generations to come.”

Transportation and buildings are currently the two largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions in both Seattle and Washington state, and the Seattle Public Schools is the largest public school district in the state, with over 9 million square feet of buildings and a contracted fleet of over 400 school buses. 

The science is clear: We have 10-12 years to reduce harmful greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels before the impacts of climate change become catastrophic. Which means we have to start the work now. That’s why a growing number of school districts across the nation are committing to move to 100% clean energy, phase out gas infrastructure, and adopt zero-emission school buses. By embracing clean electricity, these proposals put our schools on a path to eliminate climate pollution from their operations while improving student health and performance.” ~Ruth Sawyer, Sierra Club

“We’re already seeing the impacts of climate change in the Pacific Northwest, including higher peak temperatures, increased wildfire smoke, sea level rise, and more. By making this commitment, Seattle Public Schools is emerging as a leader in helping Seattle meet its climate goals of net zero carbon citywide by 2050. We hope this will serve as a great example for other school districts and local government bodies to take bold action by phasing out fossil fuels.”  ~Deepa Sivarajan, Climate Solutions 

“This is a good first step. The science is clear. The world needs to decarbonize, reducing emissions by half by 2030, to avoid the worst impacts of climate on human health and lives. Climate impacts the most vulnerable among us, including our children and their future. Rich cities like Seattle have a moral obligation to decarbonize first, so this is an encouraging first step.” ~Heather Price, North Seattle College

Fossil fuel combustion can also cause respiratory, cardiovascular, neurological, and other illnesses. According to the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, an estimated 1,100 people in Washington die every year from the effects of air pollution. Students face unique exposure to these pollutants: students riding in diesel school buses are exposed to 23 to 46 times the cancer risk level considered significant under federal law. The burdens of air pollution are also disproportionately borne by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities and low-income communities. 

Fortunately, research has shown that school districts that reduced fossil fuel emissions saw improvements in student health and performance. Through this resolution, Seattle Public Schools has taken a crucial first step in protecting the health and safety of students, teachers, and staff, as well as responding boldly to the climate crisis and helping Seattle meet its greenhouse gas reduction goals.   

“100% CLEAN Schools are a crucial part of a healthy, resilient future for our students and our schools. Green schools bring greenbacks to our district by cutting costly fossil fuel costs. Let’s take positive, pragmatic action to sustain future life on our planet and ensure that the benefits of the clean energy revolution are shared equitably by all our students and families. We deserve schools that are clean, green, and fair.” ~Joe Szwaja, Teacher Seattle public schools 

“As a parent of three living in South Seattle, it is imperative that we ensure  that our youth not only have access to a quality education, but also to a quality of life that includes clean air, clean water, healthy buildings and a future free of greenhouse gases and pollution. Here, in South Seattle, our youth are disproportionately exposed to the harmful health impacts caused by pollution from the burning of fossil fuels. By passing this resolution, the Seattle School Board positions itself as a leader to protecting the health and welfare of all its students.” ~Matt Remle (Lakota), parent

“As an elementary school teacher, I teach my students everyday how important it is to care about the planet, their communities and each other. Climate change is the number one thing they are worried about. It is imperative that we show them we care about their future as much as they care about it, otherwise we are teaching them that they don’t deserve a future on this planet.” ~Sara Egger, Teacher Seattle public schools

“As a parent and a mental health provider, I am concerned by the lifelong impacts of climate change and pollution on children’s’ physical, mental, and academic health. In my zip code, young people are disproportionately exposed to and affected by the burning of fossil fuels. Our young people in Seattle are amongst the most vocal and organized in demanding action for a healthy, just, and sustainable future. Seattle Public Schools is well positioned to answer their call and be a leader for students and other school districts in moving to 100% clean energy.” ~Megan Slade, parent

*Cover photo of the Robert Eagle Staff school in Seattle

Contact: Ruth Sawyer, Sierra Club, ruth.sawyer@sierraclub.org

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