AS YOU WILL SEE FROM THESE WINNING ESSAYS, the generation of young people now in high school cares passionately, deeply, unreservedly about our world. One of the issues these young people are most concerned about is the health of our planet, which is why, this year, we asked them: What can you do to help slow down global warming?
The 2007 winners were flown to Washington, DC to participate in a Panim el Panim seminar and a You Can Save the World awards ceremony featuring Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL). The essays below and three finalists' essays are posted at momentmag.com, as is information for students and teachers about how to enter the 2008 contest. Thank you to PANIM The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values and Barnes & Noble for providing this year's prizes.
"Grandpa," shouted the little boy, dressed in a T-shirt and shorts, as he ran into the house and dropped his backpack. It was January 2058.
He pleaded, "Please tell me again about global warnings, Grandpa."
"Global warming," I corrected. "Okay.... Not so long ago, cars, trucks, factories, power plants, airplanes and people put so much carbon dioxide into the air that the temperature kept getting hotter. The polar ice cap was melting faster than scientists once thought but they figured out how to slow down our planet's warming. They thought that if people committed themselves to making some simple changes, it would be us, the people, who could stop global warming."
"Was this when the birds still sang?"
"Yes," I continued. "Small things had started to change. But no one thought it was a big deal. The birds still sang...."
He burst in: "And there were butterflies! They were mon ... mon ..."
"Monarchs," I finished his sentence. "They still flew. They were just beautiful. I never thought I would miss them so much ... or the sound of birds singing or the taste of maple syrup or ...." I paused to close my eyes and search my memory, "The snow."
"Tell me about the snow, Grandpa."
"The snow fell every winter, gently, softly and silently. It filled the streets, covered the hills and landed on my mittens so that I could look at every crystal.We went sledding, ice skating and made snow angels. We ate icicles, threw snowballs and made a snow..."
"... man!" he yelled excitedly. "I know, I know. It had a carrot nose, a hat and twig arms and it looked like the ones I see in my story books. But yours was real. You touched the snow."
I continued. "Then one winter, the snow never came, only lots of rain. The summer got longer. Since fall faded away and frost never came, leaves no longer turned bright red and yellow.Maple trees' sap flowed less and less until it stopped. Butterflies could not find shelter on their trips to Mexico, because forests had been clear cut. No shelter eventually meant extinction. But some things thrived in the warm temperatures: poison ivy, ragweed pollen, ticks. And now you go to school, in January, in shorts and a t-shirt. But you know all this!" I glumly stopped talking.
"But, grandpa, what did those scientists ask people to do? Was it so hard?" my grandson probed.
"Well," I slowly responded, "the scientists asked us to lower the temperature in our homes just a few degrees, to turn off lights when we left a room and to unplug our chargers when not using them. We were asked to change old fashioned light bulbs to super-efficient compact fluorescent ones, to recycle paper, plastic and metal and to turn off our cars when they were failing to prevent dirty fumes from spewing into our air. Many people thought it would be a good idea to walk or bike instead of drive. Back in 2008, if we had done these things, we could have stopped global warming from happening."
My bewildered six-year old grandson asked, "Why didn't the people work together and do those things? …