One of the main things Terriq Thompson remembers about Benjamin Franklin High School, where he graduated in 2019, is that it was hot. In particular, he remembers his first day of his senior year. It was an unusually warm September, and on that day, it was 90 degrees Fahrenheit out. But inside, he swears it was even hotter—and only a few rooms in the building had air conditioning. He had a math class during first period, and math classes were the worst because they were on the particularly brutal third floor.

“I think I actually took my shirt off and was in class wearing a tank top. Everyone was just sweating,” he said. “All the teachers could do was just open a window and continue to teach.”

It got so bad that a few hours into the school day, the city let students at Ben Franklin—and some other schools around the city—out of school early. It wasn’t the first or last time Thompson had seen this happen. Dozens more schools in the city lacked proper air conditioning—many of them still do.

Heat wasn’t the only environmental issue Thompson noticed at Ben Franklin. In the winter, the lack of heat was a problem. There were also moldy spots in the ceiling where water had leaked through, and like most Baltimore City Public Schools, the water pipes were full of lead, so you couldn’t drink from the fountains. During his senior year, Thompson started working with Free Your Voice, the environmental justice organization where he’s on staff as a youth organizer today. Through that work, he also became aware of the pollution from nearby infrastructure, including a highway, two coal-fired power plants, three oil refineries, a chemical manufacturing facility, a coal-shipping terminal, and a trash incinerator—pollution for which his school had no equipment to filter out of the air.

“I really connected to that being a problem, as someone who’s struggled with asthma from when I was child,” he said.

Read the full article about decarbonizing the economy by Breanna Draxler at YES! Magazine.