Sustainable Missoula: SAVE promotes youth involvement in climate action

SAVE students on the rooftop garden at Hellgate High School. (Courtesy photo)

Over the past few years, we’ve seen our generation become increasingly involved in protecting our future and dealing with issues that will impact the rest of our lives. Particularly in Missoula, where we’ve grown up skiing, hunting and enjoying the outdoors, young people have increasingly felt a need to preserve this lifestyle that depends so much on the health of the planet and its ecosystems.

Youth-led organizations, marches, and legal actions worldwide have reflected our feelings about the importance of creating a more sustainable future by generating social and political change. We’ve seen this happen through the Zero Hour Youth Climate Marches across the country that raised awareness of climate change, and through the lawsuit Youth v. Gov that’s currently suing the government for failing to protect our future from the effects of climate change.

As students at Hellgate High School, we are proud to take part in the movement toward sustainability in a way that reflects the values of Montana’s youth and the values of our generation that are shared around the world.

Students Against Violating the Environment, or SAVE for short, was founded in 1990 by Hellgate High School students to encourage youth involvement in sustainability.

At the start, there was only a handful of students who participated. Today, this number has swelled to 40+ students, reflecting the urgency our generation feels to push for change.

In recent years, SAVE students have worked closely with the Hellgate administration to install solar panels, build a “rooftop garden,” and create recycling and composting programs. SAVE also works to encourage the involvement of students in our Missoula community, through volunteering with organizations such as Home Resource, Climate Smart Missoula, and Missoula’s ZERO by FIFTY Initiative.

During the week of Earth Day, SAVE organizes guest speakers from around the community to talk with Hellgate students about the importance of combating climate change and how students can get involved. One of our biggest goals as a club is to convey the importance of our mission to the rest of our classmates, because we know that the effort to stop climate change will take all of us.

With the goal of creating change on a larger scale than just at school, SAVE students, along with students outside the club, have taken political action to show our concern for protecting the environment. Leading up to the November 6 elections, we registered youth voters and raised awareness about Initiative 186 in the school.

I-186 was a Montana ballot issue that aimed to keep our rivers clean by restricting new mining companies or operations from entering the state, unless they had a cleanup plan in place for when they were finished and funding to do so. Although the initiative did not pass, SAVE and Hellgate students have demonstrated the growing youth involvement in sustainability.

Our most recent schoolwide effort to promote sustainability was the establishment of a composting system to run alongside the recycling system at Hellgate. SAVE’s recycling program has been successful and well-supported by the student body for many years, collecting thousands of pounds of recycling over the years. We realized that with this amount of participation from the staff and student body, SAVE could expand the program.

In 2016 and 2017, we worked closely with the school administration to draft proposals and test composting systems. This fall, we were able to establish an official composting system in the cafeteria and a composting bin onsite; any compost created will be used to grow the rooftop garden vegetables, which in turn would be donated to the school cafeteria. One of the greatest accomplishments was not establishing the composting program itself, but working in tandem with the school administration to make a youth-led proposal come to fruition.

SAVE is currently participating in “No-Buy November,” involving the club’s students in mindful consumerism by encouraging people not to buy non-essentials. SAVE also has big plans for the rest of the year: we are planning a used clothing drive to collect winter clothes for Soft Landing Missoula. We are also planning a fundraiser at the Missoula Made Fair, where we will wrap people’s presents with recycled wrapping paper as a fundraiser for the club. With all the work SAVE has done, we’ve shown other generations the dedication that we and the rest of our generation have toward creating a more promising future through a sustainable world.

Julia Roemer and Madeline Swanberg are current members of the Students Against Violating the Earth (SAVE) Club at Hellgate High School.

This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

November 19. Radical Realism for Climate Change. Four impressive panelists discuss local food security, direct action, sustainable energy policy, and coal industry rhetoric. Sponsored by Missoula Rises. Missoula Public Library. 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.

November 27. Post-Election Opportunities for Climate Action. The election is over. The landscape has shifted. What does this mean for the MT climate movement? Come and explore this question with: Paul Haber, political science professor; Martin Kidston, editor, Missoula Current; Abby Huseth, Climate Smart Missoula, Faith and Climate Action MT; Dave Ditloff, National Wildlife Federation; Daniel Carlino, environmental studies student; Moderated by Skye Borden, Environment Montana. Hosted by Sierra Club Montana Beyond Coal Campaign. Public House, 130 E. Broadway, Missoula. 7 p.m.

December 6. Climate Smart Missoula’s Year 3 Celebration. Help celebrate 3 years of Climate Smart Missoula! Food, beverages, and annual Smarty Pants awards honoring folks who have made an impact on local climate action this year. Goodworks Ventures, 129 W Alder, Missoula. 5 – 8 p.m.

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more conservation events for the upcoming months HERE.