Carbon Neutrality, Challenge Accepted!

Last November, five seniors and Science and Math Teacher Brian Turano volunteered their time to participate in the Carbon Neutrality Challenge-a joint project by the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and led by Dr. Camilo Mora, associate professor of geography in the College of Social Sciences. The challenge set out to plant a record-setting 1,000 trees in a single day. The event was a success and served as a proof of concept for the project. "After we finished planting our trees, our group walked to the top of the hill and saw the hundreds of pink flags, which signified the trees being planted," says Priory alum, Natalie Wong, '19, as she reflected on her participation last year.

The premise of the Carbon Neutrality Challenge is simple — plant trees to eliminate carbon emissions. "Trees are the best technology we know of that removes the carbon from the atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. They take the CO2, put it in their bodies and it stays there for years," Mora says.

On Mora's website, gocarbonneutral.org, users can calculate their carbon emissions and the number of trees needed to sequester the carbon that they produce. According to Mora, in order for Hawaiʻi to fully offset its carbon emissions, 10,000 trees need to be planted and thrive. Therefore, the goal for this year is to plant 10,000 seedlings which will consist of species that are all native to Hawaiʻi— Koa, Lonomea, Kou and Wiliwili. While a date is not quite set, the tree planting will take place near Kūkaniloko Birthstones State Monument in Wahiawā.

Catherine Mount, '20, is the student lead, spearheading student recruitment and logistics in St. Andrew's Schools' participation in this year's challenge. Mount, also an active member of the Pacific and Asian Affairs Council, had the opportunity to travel to Bali, Indonesia with the group. There, she was able to experience the Balinese perspective on consumption and sustainability issues and her travels inspired her to the student lead for this project. "I felt that the Carbon Neutrality Challenge is a local way to contribute to the growing issues our world is facing," she says.

As Mount suggests, the Challenge is a means to "think globally, act locally." Hawaiʻi locals refer to this as, aloha ʻāina — a Hawaiian value that means to love the land which feeds. If successful, the act of planting these trees initiates a domino effect that results in the restoration of the Hawaiian ecosystem. According to the website, "it will help the restoration of native forests, which in turn will improve the quality of habitats for endangered species, reduce erosion and its impact on coastal marine ecosystems like coral reefs, enhance water retention and our supply of water, etc."

Mora believes that this goliath of a task can be accomplished in two hours provided he has the manpower. An estimated 1,000 volunteers are needed to execute the project and he is working tirelessly to rally up troops — visiting schools and organizations throughout Oʻahu to encourage them to get involved, including a stop at St. Andrew's Schools.

On October 15, Mora made a visit to campus to give a lecture on climate change and the scope of his project to The Priory Upper School students. His presentation was very approachable — his high-energy, positive outlook paired with relatable analogies and visuals —made it easy to listen to and understand. The presentation ended with the students feeling empowered and enthusiastic to get involved. Some students formed a line to ask him more questions, including Meenakshi Kutty, '22, who not only asked how she could sign up for the tree planting, but also what she could do to get her community to take action. "I wanted to know how we could get our whole community to care about this," she says.

Also feeling enthusiastic after Mora's lecture, Mount reinforces her motivations for volunteering as student lead for the project. "I volunteered for this event because I believe in the power of young students and the younger generations to work together, get their hands dirty and immerse themselves in the environment," says Mount.

Turano will once again lead a St. Andrew's Schools team in this year's challenge, with the goal of increasing participation to fill a roster of 20 faculty and student volunteers. He hopes that Mora's lecture will create a boost in numbers. "The goal of this event is to demonstrate that everyone can do their part to slow climate change and restore Hawai'i's environment," Turano said. "Our school can be a model that it is possible."