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CHCCS students combat pollution from cars with Driving is Exhausting campaign

A car is in park in the carpool line at the Guy B. Phillips Middle School, on Monday Nov. 18, 2019. 'Driving is Exhausting' is a student-led initiative challenging parents to reduce or stop idling in the carpool line. The initiative encourages other forms of transportation such as walking, biking or riding the bus to reduce air pollution.

A group of local students is urging parents in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools (CHCCS) district to reduce emissions by turning off their engines in the carpool line.

The student group, called "Driving is Exhausting," has displayed signs at schools across Orange County reading “Turn Off Your Engine — Kids Breathe Here,” according to a press release from CHCCS. The initiative is a partnership between Driving is Exhausting, CHCCS and the Commission for the Environment, an advisory board sponsored by the Board of Orange County Commissioners.

The group believes reducing idling cars in the CHCCS district will help to slow the effects of global warming. 

Maleehah Ward, a first-year at East Chapel Hill High School, said in a press release that the gases created by idling cars negatively affect both climate and student health.

“Kids are breathing in the car exhaust because it's being released at their level and this can cause asthma,” she said. “Not only that, but the pollutants are the exact same as the ones that are contributing to climate change.”

At Guy B. Phillips Middle School, a “Green Team” of students will be collecting emissions data this month using an Air Beam device from the Chapel Hill Public Library. 

The Driving is Exhausting team will be working with Clean Air Carolina, an organization that aims to approach North Carolina’s air quality concerns from a medical angle. 

“It is so exciting to see students taking action on this,” said Brennan Bouma, the Orange County sustainability coordinator, in a press release.

Emma Culley, an East Chapel Hill High School freshman and one of the group's student organizers, expressed her own reasons for being involved in the campaign.

“Everyone’s talking about climate change — it is really the issue of our time,” Culley said. “I think it’s important that when talking about climate change we talk about little things that we can do in order to have a positive impact on a really big issue.”

School district administrators, including CHCCS sustainability director Dan Schnitzer, have said they support the initiative.

“It is our responsibility as educators and adults to be responsive to the needs of students,” he said. “I hope that the drivers that make up this community will show their responsiveness by increasing walking and biking to school, bus use and carpooling in addition to not idling.”

Jeff Nash, executive director of community relations for CHCCS, said he is excited about the project’s implications.

“There’s a great benefit for students to realize that their work matters, that their efforts produce fruit and that they see that when they get together, they work hard for a good cause, they organize, and they actually see a lasting difference,” Nash said. “I hope that’s a lesson to take away from it in addition to all the wonderful parts of making our environment safe.”

For students like Culley, this campaign is about much more than just street signs.

“Change starts everywhere, and it has to start somewhere,” Culley said. “Students, we are the people that will be making the change and leading the future, so I think it’s important that we have this program. Hopefully it will spread, but for now, it’s important that we start small.”

Community members can sign Driving is Exhausting’s pledge to stop idling on the group's website.


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