The generation inheriting climate change isn’t waiting until they grow up to do something about it.

Three Lincoln Middle School students won first, second and third place in an essay contest that asked Los Angeles-area students how they would engineer the City of Los Angeles to be completely powered by renewable energy. 8th grader Simona Trentchev, 7th grader Emma Howard and 6th grader Bella Brito won the American Society of Civil Engineers contest with essays that proposed harnessing thermal, human and solar energy to wean Los Angeles off fossil fuels. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti congratulated the three students late last month.

In her first-place essay, Trentchev described how thermal energy from the ocean could be converted to electricity. Oceanic thermal energy systems use the temperature difference between cooler deep water and warmer shallow water to run a heat engine that produces electricity.

While the only oceanic thermal energy system in the world is in Japan, projects are planned in coastal and island countries around the world and Trentchev believes the Pacific Ocean would be an intuitive source of power for Los Angeles.

Trentchev, who plans to become an engineer, said she thinks it will take bold, imaginative ideas to stop climate change. Her teachers at Lincoln have fostered her creativity, making science and writing engaging and encouraging her to conduct her own research on topics she is interested in.

“As people grow up, they can lose their imagination,” she said. “We have ingenuity and different ideas.”

Howard wrote about capturing the kinetic energy produced by humans in her second place essay, proposing that Los Angeles install pavement that turns footsteps into electricity. 20 steps could power a streetlight, she said. Howard also suggested that residents could wear shoes that harvest energy from walking.

Some private companies are developing such technology, including Pavegen, which makes triangular tiles that use the weight of footsteps to generate electricity, and researchers at the University of Wisconsin – Madison have created sneakers that capture energy.

Howard has always been interested in science, and first learned about kinetic energy in fourth grade and asked her teacher if it could power a car. Her teacher said she didn’t know, but the idea stayed with her. When she entered the essay contest, she decided to research the topic on her own.

An aspiring writer, Howard said she was excited by the contest because it combined her interests in writing, math and science.

“It’s important to let people our age express their ideas because in a few years we’re going to be the adults and we’ll have to figure out how to help the world,” Howard said.

Brito’s third-place essay outlined how Los Angeles could use solar power to reduce emissions. She said she thinks children are more concerned about climate change than adults because they will be the first generation to experience its most harmful effects.

“Some adults don’t believe what we say, they brush it off,” Brito said. “Adults should listen to us and use our ideas to make California better.”

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