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West Maui student helping to solve energy challenges and opportunities

By Staff | May 31, 2018

Recent Sacred Hearts School graduate Sydney McCarney met Hawaii Gov. David Ige at the Earth Day Energy Summit.

LAHAINA – In a world that is topsy-turvy, where pollution is rife and our carbon footprint is muddy, there is hope; and, in this part of the Pacific, hope is named Sydney McCarney.

A graduating Sacred Hearts School (SHS) eighth-grader, Sydney is headed to Lahainaluna High School next year, and she is taking with her a history of experience that is extraordinary.

This past school year has been full for the 14-year-old Lahaina resident. Instead of being overwhelmed, she has chosen to rise.

Her eighth grade teacher, Mary Anna Grimes, brought her to the attention of Lahaina News.

In November, she was selected, along with fellow SHS seventh- and eighth-graders, to participate in the third annual Blue Planet Foundation Student Energy Summit on Oahu.

The two-day 2017 seminar, according to their website, blueplanetfoundation.org, was an interactive workshop that focused on “Hawaii’s energy challenges and opportunities.”

Mrs. Grimes was cited on the website as saying, “I’ve been to youth conferences in New York, India, Spain, Boston; but by far, this was the best summit I’ve ever been to!”

In April, Sydney joined the Blue Planet Blue Line Project team.

“What it was, you got a blue piece of chalk, and you drew a line into where ocean sea level rise would be in 50 years if we kept going as we are today,” she said.

“Recent studies suggest,” the website explained with backup information provided by the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, “that Hawaii could see a one-meter rise in sea level as early as 40 years from today if we continue our unsustainable reliance on fossil fuels for our electricity and transportation needs.”

The whirlwind year did stop there; the pace kept up with her entrance in the National History Day Competition in April.

“My teacher selected me to go to district competition, which was on Maui; and then the judges moved me onto the state competition. I didn’t make it to nationals, but one of my classmates did, Ben Lolesio,” she said with a smile.

“I had just actually gotten back from Oahu from the history competition that I went to when I found out I was going back to Oahu the next week for the Earth Day 2018 Energy Summit,” hosted by Elemental Excelerator, led by Steve Jobs’ wife, Laurene Powell Jobs.

The tagline for the dynamic nonprofit is: “We help startups change the world one community at a time,” by awarding each year to 15 to 20 companies “up to $1 million to improve systems that impact people’s lives: energy, water, agriculture and transportation.”

“On Earth Day,” their website (elementalexcelerator.com) announced, “We released new data on Hawaii’s path to clean energy, called Transcending Oil. It tells the story of how Hawaii can transition to clean energy faster than we thought, 84% by 2030.”

Sydney was privileged to attend that one-day gathering on Oahu of “change-makers, entrepreneurs, artists, and cultural leaders, for a day of dialogue, festivities, and action,” celebrating “10 years of progress since the signing of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative in 2008,” galvanizing “action to fulfill the promise of a clean, resilient, and inclusive future – while amplifying Hawaii as a model of what’s possible when people come together.”

Sydney participated as a panelist.

“Sydney McCarney was selected,” Grimes advised, “because she had attended a Blue Planet Energy Summit in November along with nine other SHS students. So she is aware of the energy concerns we are facing as a nation and the unique concerns of our state. She is articulate, independent, resourceful and can travel well.”

“The outcome was phenomenal. It is the most professional gathering of purposeful beings in one place that I have attended. It was classy, specific, extremely thought-out. Every attention to detail was thought-out,” Grimes added.

“She knocked the panel out of the park! She was one of only four students; the three others were in high school!

“She was the most articulate,” her proud teacher-mentor boasted. “In fact, Laurene (Powell) Jobs, Steve Jobs’ widow, spoke with her later and told her to keep doing what she is doing, that she is so articulate. This made Sydney giddy. Then she found out who said that to her, and she turned into a six-year-old!”

Sydney came home with a new understanding

She told the Lahaina News that Hawaii is fossil fuel-dependent, and the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative has set goals to achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2045.

“That’s the big known goal that seems sort of impossible; but when you dig deeper into it, you find that there are baby marks that have to be set by certain years to make sure that we can get to that final goal,” Sydney said.

“Baby marks?” The Lahaina News asked.

“Baby marks,” Sydney answered, “are like the windmills that are going up, solar energy that’s going up and the solar fields, like the one up Lahainaluna.”

There were some topics Sydney hadn’t anticipated learning.

“Before the summit, I didn’t really think about the social impact, because it was like just do it, right? Then you find out that – like these people who are praised for having all electric vehicles and solar panels and Energy Star appliances – all these wonderful things for the environment are also, at this point, so much more expensive than everything else. And, like to be aware that you want to make a difference but then not be able to, like that can’t be a good feeling, because you want to help the environment, and you want to lessen your carbon footprint, but not having the ability to do that – I can only imagine how that would feel.”

Sydney has goals and is optimistic about the future.

“I think teenagers are smart. If they cared and they thought about it, they could make a lot of change. They have new and refreshing ideas that haven’t been beaten out of them by the real world. They still have their optimism, and they still have their bright new ideas, because they still think like kids,” she said.

She is wise beyond her years.

“Young people aren’t so much set in their ways, because they don’t know what their ways are yet,” Sydney said.

She has had the nurturing support of parents, Alex and Michael McCarney.

Alex, with a deep mother’s love, was profoundly insightful.

“Sydney has done well in school. She makes better than good grades, but that is not the most important thing in our family. Grades are only a reflection of what is learned in school; however, how we are respected in our family and in our community is our grade in life. What we give, how we serve, and how we make people feel is a very important value in our family and for life. Sydney is a leader among her peers, because she treats people well, shares her gifts and willingly serves with love and the spirit of aloha,” she said.