SOUTH PORTLAND — Wiping dirt from her hands, ninth grader Kylee Terroni stood up from a hole she dug on high school grounds, laughing as she said, “It’s 2019, and people still don’t believe in climate change, even though it is happening all around us.”

Terroni spoke as one of more than 20 students who planted trees April 22 at South Portland High School as part of an eight-day recognition of Earth Day.

“This event is more than just planting trees,” said Richard Rottkov, president of the South Portland Land Trust. “It’s for students to learn the crucial role trees play in keeping us healthy. They should know how important trees are for the protection of the environment.”

The act of planting trees, Rottkov said, may seem like a small deed, but they are vital for our ecosystem. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tree-filled neighborhoods have lower levels of domestic violence and are statistically safer, more social communities.

A 2015 research review details how trees improve mental health and well-being by providing oxygen, intercepting UV light, absorbing rainfall and reducing air pollution.

“This day is about showing students they can play a role in environmental protection,” Rottkov said. “With Earth Week, we can further promote the practices and importance of healthy living, and that’s what our other events are about too. We want Earth Day to be every day.”

Rottkov said the planting was one of several activities students participated in throughout the week that coincided with Earth Day on April 22 and Arbor Day on April 26.

Other activities included a film festival related to climate change, featuring a panel discussion with filmmakers; a nature writing workshop and a rally in Augusta to support Climate Justice Movement.

Teroni said her intention to attend the rally in Augusta on Tuesday was rooted deeply in her desire to bring awareness to legislators about what her generation wants for the future.

“We’re the first generation it’s affecting,” she said, “and the last generation to do anything about it.”

The rally in Augusta, Rottkov explained, shows students that climate activism can mean a number of things, from planting trees to protesting for legislature change.

“I’ve been disappointed during the years with the lack of activism, especially with the millennial generation, but this is exciting,” he said. “These students are really concerned about the environment and the future.”

While schools are not allowed to support political candidates or a particular political affiliation, Rottkov said everyone has an obligation to support the Earth, and politics plays a vital role in making progress on climate change legislation.

“The environment is a political battleground, and we must speak in favor of protecting it,” he said. “Some people don’t believe in climate change. I don’t even think our president is ready to accept the threat it imposes on younger generations.”

In addition to the events earlier this week, the annual clean-up day at Mill Creek Park was rescheduled because of last weekend’s weather and is set to take place Sunday, April 28. Rottkov said more than 300 people have participated in past cleanups, which shows how engaged Mainers are in the process of prevention and harm reduction.

“We want to have fun with the process,” he said. “It’s not all about the doom and gloom surrounding climate change. It’s the excitement around the awareness, attention and interest in saving the planet that matters.”

Krysteana Scribner can be reached at [email protected] or 780-9094. Follow her on Twitter: @krysteana2016.

Kelsea Geisinger finds the humor in planting trees to celebrate Earth Week at South Portland High School April 22, along with other students and teacher Tom Hyland.

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