When we talked to the Air Quality Management District about writing about air pollution, we wanted to know how teens could help reduce pollution. We were excited to learn that there’s a lot that teens can do. Driving less is the biggest thing you can do because exhaust from cars and other vehicles is responsible for more than half of the smog in our region. There are other steps you can take, too. Using less energy helps because some of the energy used to power electronics, turn on lights and heat water comes from air-polluting power plants. Another thing you can do is unplug TVs, computers and phone chargers when you’re not using them because electronics that are turned off but plugged in still use a little energy. So we challenged our staff to drive less and use less energy for one week. They all said that they think they can keep it up.
On Monday I walked to school instead of driving. It was an epic fail. I was 20 minutes late to first period and got detention. After that I asked my mom if I could carpool with her. She said sure, but that I’d have to wake up earlier so she wouldn’t be late to work.
After school on Tuesday I took a shower. Usually, I take a 15-minute shower because I shower with the radio on and sing along. I wanted to limit my time to five minutes so I would save energy by using less hot water. I turned the radio off and my shower felt really short, but when I got out I looked at the clock—it had been 10 minutes.
By Thursday, I was finally getting the hang of turning off the lights when I left a room, but with the lights out, everything seemed so empty. When I was in the living room and the rest of the lights were off, I felt like the next victim in a horror film. Maybe the reason why most people leave the lights on is because we’re still afraid of the dark.
Although I didn’t meet my expectations, I changed habits and I feel good about it. If I reduce the energy I use, there will be less pollution and everyone benefits from that.
Quinten Harrison, 17, Marshall Fundamental HS (Pasadena)
Illustrations by Alison Lee, 15, Whitney HS (Cerritos)
Many times, I have tried to go green by recycling or reusing bags, but these things never lasted long enough to become a routine. That’s why I really liked this challenge because it forced me to break away from my laziness for a week.
The hardest thing for me was taking shorter showers. My showers last about 20 minutes. When I looked up online how long a shower should be, I read on energysavers.gov that this was 15 minutes too long.
The first two days, I stepped into the shower reminding myself that my goal was to turn the water off in five minutes. However, once I felt the soothing, warm water, all intentions of a quick shower flew out the window. When I got out I looked at the clock and saw that my shower time was its usual 20 minutes.
On the third day I took a stopwatch into the bathroom. When I turned off the water and looked at the time, I was relieved that I had taken only six minutes. Surprisingly, I felt just as clean and refreshed as usual. I realized that I could get everything I need to get done in six minutes and that the other 14 minutes was just spent uselessly running hot water.
I also turned off the lights when I wasn’t using them and unplugged the TV, chargers and computer every night. My hope is that the things I did this one-week challenge will become routine.
Shefali Chauhan, 14, Whitney HS
I thought the challenge would be easy, but it wasn’t.
The hardest thing was making sure that my computer was turned off. Sometimes I keep the computer on for a long time even if I’m not using it and that wastes power. So I tried to do the computer part of my homework at one time and then switch it off. Then I would do the rest of my homework that didn’t need a computer, like math or science. Sometimes I would forget certain homework and had to turn on the computer again but I got better by the end of the week.
The simplest part was turning off the lights when I left the room and unplugging electronics when they weren’t in use. Another easy part for me was using the clothesline because my family already uses it to save energy. When I did my laundry, the sunlight was so bright that my clothes dried a lot faster than using the dryer.
Even though I was doing this challenge to help reduce air pollution, at first I didn’t see how it was impacting the air. The only thing that I felt could reduce air pollution was driving less, but I have to go to school by car since my school is not close enough to walk to and we don’t have bus stops around my house. But doing this challenge made me more aware of air pollution. I learned that even simple things that don’t sound like they could make a difference, can help.
Tracy Yao, 17, Covina HS
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This special package is funded by the South Coast Air Quality Management District. Los Angeles has some of the dirtiest air in the country, which means that many days we’re breathing in smog that is bad for our health. What is smog? Smog refers to all the pollutants in the air. There are several air pollutants, including some that are colorless (so you can’t always tell how smoggy the air is just by looking at it). Driving is a big source of air pollution. Other sources are power plants, emissions from businesses and dust. Los Angeles air has gotten cleaner, but there were still 100 days last year when the air quality was not healthy. In this special package you can learn more about smog, including what you can do to help reduce pollution.