April 22 marked the 51st Earth Day reminding all of us that our climate dilemma didn’t develop overnight. There were times our relationship with fossil fuels was healthier and fueled new technology and economic progress. But, the time for a tough breakup has long since passed. Gen Z didn’t have a say in the world they inherited, but its leaders are stepping up to create a future in which we can all thrive. Jack Fox is one such leader. His mission to see Aspen Middle School powered by renewable energy started in 2017. Despite now being a junior at Aspen High these days, he has been quietly unrelenting in his effort to see the project through to completion. He doesn’t consider himself an activist, just a young man with a practical approach. These are the five building blocks of climate action we learned from a quick chat with Jack.

1. Think Big and Don’t Give Up

“It’s a half a million-dollar project. When I heard solar was the first thing to get cut from the budget, my intent was to figure out how we can use bonds and grants to raise the money and make this happen.”

Four years before Jack could vote, serve in the military or open a bank account without an adult present, he became the driving force holding school district leaders’ feet to the fire on carbon emissions. The school district initially planned to offset Aspen Middle School’s entire carbon footprint with solar energy. It quickly became clear the project would run over budget and solar panels were one of the first cuts to be made. Jack, however, did not find this solution acceptable and intended to do something about it.

2. The Transition to Renewable Energy is Common Sense

“100 years in the scope of humanity is the blink of an eye. It’s such an obvious decision and transition that even if climate change is not an existential threat, it’s a transition we are going to have to make eventually. Advancement in coal and gas technology has a known ceiling for innovation, whereas the ceiling for affordable renewable energy isn’t known yet.” 

For Jack, it’s practicality and economics. The moment renewable energy is more affordable than oil and gas is the moment the world moves beyond fossil fuels, but that doesn’t mean we sit back and wait for it to happen. Innovation has to occur before we make it to the tipping point. He points to companies like Space-X and Tesla that were imagined to drive innovation rather than profit. If they fail, they still succeed by changing the game. Jack’s approach isn’t all that different. Powering Aspen Middle School desire is a driving force that will expedite carbon-free building in the rest of the school district and beyond.    

3. It Takes a Village

“It was initially a group of five students. It’s just me at this point, but I’ve had a ton of adult support for the project. Diane Godfrey is a big one and David Baugh at the school. We are also hoping to use some of the district’s bond money and help from CORE grants, as well.”

Great leadership inspires others to go above and beyond their day-to-day responsibilities and Jack has done just that. After the project-based class wrapped up, other students understandably moved on to new endeavors, but not Jack. He recruited new members to his team and doubled down on achieving his goal. Jack found that by tapping into the right administrators, decision-makers and funding sources he could be the catalyst of big things.  

4. Walk the Walk

“I assume most people Iook at [climate change] as a government or legislative issue, but I take personal responsibility. There are so many small things you can do. That’s why my room in my house is completely subsidized by solar.”

Jack’s family home is not off the grid, but his personal space is thanks to a DIY system he designed himself. He installed two 100W solar panels outside his room on the roof of the home connected to two car batteries and an inverter. He can power his phone, laptop, lights and anything else that requires electricity. He carefully monitors his energy use and when the car batteries die, he doesn’t tap into the rest of the house. Flashlights powered by rechargeable batteries is all he needs to get by.

5. You Don’t Have to Consider Yourself an Activist

“I wouldn’t really consider myself an activist, just that doing my part to lower emissions is important. I’ve never really thought about whether I am spreading a message or inspiring others to do the right thing too.”

Is Jack’s low-key approach inspiring others to do the right thing? Big time. Look no further than CORE’s 2021 Community Meeting. In a time where the climate discussion hinges on divisive politics, there isn’t a hint of condescension in his tone. When he speaks it feels like an open invitation to be a part of the winning team, no matter who you are, where you’re from or what you believe.

Did you know CORE provides grants for innovative projects, big or small? Jack rallied the school district to go renewable and thanks to his leadership CORE will be able to support with grant funding to make it happen. Fill out the Let’s Get Going form and tell us about your big (or small!) idea and let CORE help bring your project to life.