The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

The student news site of Los Altos High School in Los Altos, California

The Talon

Los Altos is already sustainable, so where should we go from here?

Los+Altos+High+School%E2%80%99s+Agriculture+and+Ecology+class+keeps+flowerbeds+and+a+compost+bin+behind+the+portables.
Shannon Chiang
Los Altos High School’s Agriculture and Ecology class keeps flowerbeds and a compost bin behind the portables.

Sustainability. It’s a word we hear everywhere, from news headlines to grocery store aisles. We’re bombarded with advice to use reusable bags, ditch the car for a bike and cut back on meat consumption. We’re told these actions can make a difference. But when faced with the vastness of environmental challenges, it’s easy to wonder: Can my small changes really make a dent? 

While the problems may seem immense, individual actions contribute to a collective impact. In Los Altos, 88.9 percent of citizens commute by driving, which is 26,773 people. Although the carbon emissions in Los Altos have already been reduced by 34 percent since 2005, small improvements can still be made, even if it’s just ditching the car for a bike over short distances.

Data collected in 2023, from Google Environmental Insights Explorer. (Graphic by Shannon Chiang)

According to Our World in Data, if a person skipped out on using a car for short trips and biked instead, their carbon footprint would be reduced by around 75 percent.

Now, consider Los Altos, a city taking concrete steps towards sustainability. Their ban on single-use plastic bags and polystyrene foam containers are just two examples of how communities can translate individual actions into real change. 

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This begs a new question: How can more people participate in these individual actions, and allow Los Altos to stay great in sustainability?

Green Team co-president junior Kelsey Nguyen thinks that the next best move is for Los Altos to continue with the efforts surrounding traffic issues. 

“It’s one of those areas where people are already making an effort to be green,” Kelsey said. “A lot of people bike, a lot of people walk and it’s really important to take advantage of that and make sure it’s safe for them to do so.”

It’s one of those areas where people are already making an effort to be green.A lot of people bike, a lot of people walk and it’s really important to take advantage of that and make sure it’s safe for them to do so.

— Green Team co-president junior Kelsey Nguyen

You might have noticed the painted bike routes on Jardin Drive. They were originally meant to encourage more bikers, but the narrow road has unintentionally caused concerns about insufficient space for walkers.

Because of this, the City has decided to redesign Jardin Drive, incorporating the concerns of pedestrians and residents while still encouraging sustainable transportation. The construction is planned to start in June 2024 and finish by August. 

Beyond transportation, Green Team believes that smaller individual actions, such as raising vegetable gardens and sustainably landscaping, also make a huge difference in fostering a greener environment. These green spaces not only enhance the city’s aesthetic appeal but also support biodiversity, improve air quality and offer residents a tangible connection to nature. 

 

What’s next?

Without knowing much about the issue and the true weight of our actions, it’s easy to fall into the mindset that as a single person in a world with over 8 billion people, our actions don’t carry much consequence. That’s why awareness is one of the keys to sustainability.

We need more accessible ways for people to understand that this issue is relevant and solutions are accessible to us […] This is about creating new lifestyles that can help in the future, and not to just solve some tangible problem.

— Green Team co-president senior Aarthi Venkatraman

“We all collectively need to be looking to do more and do better,” Kelsey said. “It’s easy to think that if I have this hamburger versus this impossible burger, it won’t make that big of a difference. But if everyone has that mindset, it’s a chain reaction of no one is actually doing anything.”

Youth engagement is also a challenge because it’s difficult to directly observe the impacts of environmental issues in affluent communities, such as Los Altos. Consequences are more noticeable in disadvantaged communities, which can create a sense of distance from the issue for Los Altos residents.

“We need more accessible ways for people to understand that this issue is relevant and solutions are accessible to us,” Green Team co-president senior Aarthi Venkatraman said. “There’s really no stopping point. This is about creating new lifestyles that can help in the future, and not to just solve some tangible problem.”

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