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Meet the Solutionaries: Kids Skip Scary Climate Coverage to Focus on Local Changemakers

These high school students created a series of podcasts to tell the stories of inspiring people in their community.

Entrevue radio

Photo by Andréanne Germain/ Flickr.

"Ever feel like the world is all bad news? So did we. So we set out to find the people in our communities who are doing good things. The people who inspire us. The people creating the solutions, rather than the problems.”

Those are the opening lines from 18-year-old Miles Lamberson's podcast "Bringing the Heat," in which he interviewed Jake Marin, a program manager at Vermont Energy Investment Corporation.

Through meeting "solutionaries" in their community, these students gained a new perspective on their own potential.

Marin advocates the use of heat pumps—carbon-neutral home heating systems—among other alternative energy sources; and his company projects that it will help the state of Vermont cut down on 20 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year by 2027.

"Bringing the Heat" is one of a series of podcasts called "The Solutionaries Project," created by students at the Vermont Commons School in the town of South Burlington during the 2013 to 2014 school year. Loosely based on talk radio sequences like TED's radio hour and "This American Life," the podcasts describe solutions to problems such as climate disruption and economic inequality.

"The Solutionaries Project" was born when students took in a maelstrom of negative news during a class in “ecological economies,” said Mark Cline-Lucey, teacher and chair of the school's social studies department. The course material included climate activist Bill McKibben's book Deep Economy, and Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary "The 11th Hour."

That film—which confronts the viewer with a series of climate change-induced disasters, using the score and narration to make each disaster seem as terrifying as possible—made a deep impression on the students, Cline-Lucey said.

"They understood that all of the stuff in the movie was real, and was right, but the 'scary method' was not motivating for them. It was disempowering. It almost shut them down."

So, what's a solutionary?

But the students didn't shut down. Instead, they decided to tell the stories of local people who were already taking action to create positive change.

"We agreed that a solutionary was somebody who was actively engaged in creating innovative solutions to social, economic, [or] environmental problems," Cline-Lucey said.

Twelfth-grader Maggie Homer put it another way: “It’s about seeing what is wrong with the world, and taking the steps to make it better—no matter how small those steps are.”

Homer created a podcast called "Art, Agriculture & Activism" about Bonnie Acker, an artist and volunteer in Vermont, who works to encourage public schools to provide organic, healthy food to schoolkids.

VCS students interviewing a solutionary

Maggie Homer (center) and Seth Evans-Diffenderfer (right) interviewing a Systems Thinking professor and students (left) from the University of Vermont. Photo courtesy of VCS.

In another podcast, senior Aidan Villani-Holland interviewed Duane Peterson, co-founder of a Vermont-based solar panel installation company called SunCommon. Villani-Holland says that, before he spoke with Peterson, he’d thought solar panels were too expensive for most people. But he came away with a knowledge of technological advancements that have driven down the price.

“Solar energy can actually be cheaper than your previous electricity bills," he said.

By getting to know solutionaries in their community, the students also gained a new perspective on their own personal potential, according to Cline-Lucey. Villani-Holland, for example, said he’s considering a career in renewable energy.

The 12 students who created the solutionaries podcasts will graduate high school this month. Their work remains available at “The Solutionaries Project” landing page; and Cline-Lucey said he hopes to continue offering the opportunity to get involved with the project to classes in future years.

Want more? Listen to Miles Lamberson's podcast.


Molly Rusk wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Molly is a graduate of the program in Creative Writing at the University of Washington and an online reporting intern at YES! Follow her on Twitter @mollylynnrusk.

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