Weston Voices: Jonathan Lan WHS’24 and Others Lobbying For Environment
Last week a little bird told me about a Weston High School junior who is organizing a lobbying trip to the State Capitol (one can only hope the Sacred Cod will be sighted) about climate change. There is nothing the Owl likes more than writing about our Weston public schools kids and what they are doing, especially when it has to do with working for environmental justice.
The WHS junior turns out to be Jonathan Lan, who is co-president of the Students for Environmental Action (SEA) Club along with Ella Sweeney ’23. If you are unfamiliar with this club, you’re missing out on a maelstrom of activities–anything from working to get rid of plastic bottles at the high school to the lobbying trip tomorrow. The Club’s advisor is Janet Kresl Moffat.
Due to schedules, the Owl was unable to meet in person with Jonathan but traded emails about his efforts and plans, and why he got involved. The Weston contingent heads to Boston tomorrow, February 7.
Owl: Can you tell us more about this trip and the lobbying effort?
Jonathan: The event was organized by the Massachusetts Youth Climate Coalition (MYCC). The climate organization I’m a part of called Our Climate is a member of this coalition, and we’ve been doing the work around the bills we will lobby for since this legislative session started. I first joined Our Climate after SEA team’s club advisor, Ms. Kresl Moffat, got an email about lobby week last year. I’ve since bridged this connection between Weston’s SEA team and OC/MYCC, and the SEA team will actually join MYCC and collaborate with the “green teams” of dozens of other MA schools in the near future. Before our event on Tuesday, I have and will be leading a few meetings along with other Our Climate youth leaders to train high school students (including the Weston students) on how to lobby and give them exposure to the bills below. [Ed: Jonathan is the Massachusetts Field representative for Our Climate.]
Here is a list of which bills we are lobbying for: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Uk9B3IGQFGoXHD9w3IrHbhswNt6JimlV4e_PVjy4t7Q/edit
I am especially focused on the Interdisciplinary Climate Education bill, which was a bill written by Our Climate with input from teachers across the country. The main focus is on teaching that climate change is not just a scientific problem, but also a problem that relates to government, economics, and environmental justice. After realizing that I never got exposure to all these important aspects of climate change before joining Our Climate, I know this bill will be instrumental in shaping our education system for the better.
All of these bills have been edited in some way after failing to make significant headway in the legislative process. Each of them has been submitted to their respective chambers.
[Ed.: Please note that the agenda for the day is available here if you are curious about the nitty-gritty]
Owl: How many folks are going from the SEA club, and are there others outside the club who are going?
Jonathan: Surprisingly, most of those who RSVP’d for the event aren’t SEA club members. I went around environmental science, biology, and US history classes recruiting people for this event, and there is definitely more interest in either lobbying or environmental work beyond just SEA team members. Right now, I am estimating 10 people going from Weston including myself.
Owl: Are you getting help from our school or community to get to the state house…transport, planning, etc.
Jonathan: Mr. Peri has been amazing to work with. He will be organizing a bus for the trip to the State House. Various teachers I have communicated with have been also helpful in spreading the word about the event. And Ms. Brisky’s mass emailing has helped me garner more support as well. There has also been strong community support from various PTO members and school committee volunteers. A few even reached out and offered to help me make connections with government officials. I strongly appreciated their efforts, but I, unfortunately, did not have the capacity to take on.
Owl: Have you gone to the State House for this before?
Jonathan: I’ve made some speeches outside the State House and marched around the State House, but never inside of it. I think for many of the attendees of the field trip, it will be their first time with this as well. It’s always a little intimidating going into a new environment, but I think the overwhelming emotion for me is excitement!
Owl: Is this day a surprise for legislators or do they know in advance?
Jonathan: MYCC and Our Climate made sure to call and email legislators’ offices a month in advance to schedule these meetings. Almost all of these meetings were set up by youth who took time out of their day to call these offices during work hours. The SEA team is so lucky to collaborate with these organizers and be set up with a meeting with Representative Peisch and her staffers on Tuesday. After this, there is another virtual meeting set up for us with Weston’s Senator Michael Barrett.
Owl: What inspired you to do this?
Jonathan: I started working with Our Climate through their Lobby Week last year, and I think the main thing that drew me in was the fact that I could take action against climate change right now as a high school student. Previously, I was super passionate about engineering and inventing something that could stop climate change after getting an advanced degree, but especially because climate change is a problem whose effects are already upon us, I have shifted my focus towards policy and economics through lobbying. As an individual, my lack of control to stop climate change can be crushing when I think about the grand scheme of things, but through lobbying, I find it comforting to be able to take meaningful climate action now.
It’s also just amazing how many amazing people are doing this work. From passionate youth leaders to experienced adult organizers, I am so lucky to have been able to meet people from all over the country involved in climate policy. About a month ago, I made a speech at a big climate campaign that included leaders of huge Massachusetts groups like Sierra Club, 350 Mass, MCAN, and Slingshot; it was incredible to see the faces of people who had sent me emails through news subscriptions.
Owl: What are your interests in schools and plans for the future?
Jonathan: I enjoy history, and I really loved Mrs. Lee’s AP World History class in 10th grade. I have always been a huge fan of my STEM classes like biology and precalculus, but as I’ve mentioned, I’m shifting my focus towards policy and economics because I think the real roadblocks to climate action have come in those areas. So much of the technology to fight climate change has been invented, and I think the real battle will come with implementation – something that policy can really bring forward. For my career, I don’t exactly want to work in government, but I want to focus on how strong policy and economic planning can bring about environmental action through consulting perhaps.
Owl: What’s your motto?
Jonathan: The world doesn’t happen to you, you happen to the world.
Owl: Who do you consider a mentor?
Jonathan: Ever since I joined Our Climate, the educational organizer Eben Bein has welcomed me, answered my many questions about how everything works, and pushed me out of my comfort zone. I went from a quiet kid who doesn’t know anything about how the MA government works to someone leading lobbying meetings, making speeches in Boston Commons, and connecting with national teachers’ unions. His patience, passion, and knowledge have been invaluable to my experience with lobbying.
Good luck to Jonathan and his classmates tomorrow and every day!