James Ortiz, Woodrow Wilson Middle School wins USGBC-NJ Award

James Ortiz

“… in the enormous expanse that is our universe, there only exists one earth, and we need to take care of it for future generations.” ~James Ortiz, 14~

Eighth grader James Ortiz is one of this year’s recipients of the USGBC-NJ Gala K-12 Student Award. Some of his research is focused on carbon capture and storage. In measuring his efforts against Newton’s well known accumulation of scientific treatises, he comments that his work doesn’t compare in stature or importance. As a 14 year old attending Woodrow Wilson Middle School in Union City, I believe James may surprise even himself over time.

During one of the most engaging interviews I have conducted in recent times, James outlines his impressive credentials, reports, and award applications with straight forward simplicity, intelligence and objectivity unusual for someone his age. When asked about the origin of his interest in the environment, he quickly and clearly places his parents at the helm of providing, by example, the simple things we can do in our daily lives to make a contribution with our ordinary behavior. From turning off lights and TVs in unoccupied rooms, to driving less, and spreading the message within his peer groups, James not only understands, but practices this philosophy.

Polar BearsConcerned about a wide variety of environmental topics from polar ice to polar bears, James has already organized and presented programs on the environment and was chosen as keynote speaker at the ROGATE (Resources Offered in Gifted and Talented Education) exposition. The ROGATE program is sponsored by the National Talent Network of Educational Information Resource Center (EIRC) in Mullica Hill, NJ. During the rigorous application process for the Gold Sartori Award, a small number of eighth-graders, including James, scored above the SAT average for high school seniors.

James believes that “spreading awareness for taking responsibility for the planet is important.” He is hopeful that if he can convince others, beginning with his peer group, to do the simple things on a mass scale, a significant contribution can be made to repairing and protecting the environment for generations to come. After exploring sophisticated high tech methods for storing carbon and mitigating global warming, his simple conclusion is for everyone to “plant a tree.” Even read through the filter of an older adult like me, I sense when James offers that solution, it’s clear that he means it. James’s challenge will be to overcome the cynicism of adults who see the world through glasses colored by the skepticism of their lives and its lessons to the contrary.

In his pure view the easy and available answers make the most sense. James’s research has been published in local newspapers, and he won the ROGATE SAT awards in both 2009 and 2010. As part of his carbon storage research James has interviewed serious and notable scientists like Ecosystem Ecologist Dr. Karina VR Schafer, who explained that the various methodologies for collecting and storing carbon… including geological, ocean and mineral… although understood and possible, do not in fact provide enough efficacy for the process to make sense.

Hand TreeAs a doable alternative, planting a single tree can absorb 48 pounds of carbon per year. By doing the math, James concludes that if all of us become tree planting participants, who don’t consume energy as a right, but as a responsibility, the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide could be reduced by billions of pounds annually. The pot of gold at the end of that rainbow is that trees are relatively permanent, and once planted and grown, continue to do their carbon eating thing with little to no input from people. In some circumstances they may even multiply themselves, thereby collateralizing the affect.

In the simple and purely uncomplicated world of James Ortiz, is the understanding which has eluded the adults around him for the past several generations. As a result, James Ortiz’s generation and an unknown number who will succeed him will have the responsibility of repairing what we have broken; and in the process pass on their message to those who follow them. As we pass the 70th day in the Gulf of Mexico and crude oil continues to escape, in still non-specific quantities, regardless of our best efforts to date, we understand in clear terms the true form of terrorism we have brought to bear. We cannot ignore the simple convictions of a young teenager, whose grandchildren will continue to pay the price after many of us reading of his accomplishments today, no longer exist.

There are no acceptable excuses for our failure to protect the planet and correct our current dilemma. There are, however, causative reasons we would rather attribute to others. But, we are and have been our own worst enemy all along; addicted to our conveniences and in the numbers which could make a difference, unwilling to change.

I’m proud of James and his colleagues and peers. I told him so during our interview. He is the same age as some of my grandchildren. They are the ones who can and must make the difference going forward. With young men and women like James Ortiz among them, they will have a chance. Getting beyond our past and engaging our present in a constructive way while we do our best to ensure the future habitability of our planet, is everyone’s job.

James’s simple vision of people doing simple things is genuine. I believe him. Whether he’s a modern day Johnny Appleseed or future scientist, his spoken motivation is to “inspire others to help our precious environment; for in the enormous expanse that is our universe, there only exists one earth, and we need to take care of it for future generations”. James Ortiz, 14.

Jack Costantino
USGBC-NJ Newsletter Committee
Green Schools – Green Curriculum

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