From pollution to poetry, La Jolla teens take high spots in Climate Video Challenge

Emma Weibel, Solaine Bardin, Elena Grilli and Inji Hamdoun (from left) took third place in the Climate Video Challenge.
Emma Weibel, Solaine Bardin, Elena Grilli and Inji Hamdoun (from left), all in eighth grade at Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla, took third place in the California Coastal Commission’s Climate Video Challenge.
(Courtesy of Sara Gianella Weibel)

The winners of the statewide Climate Video Challenge are in, and the creators of two of the top three videos hail from La Jolla. Their entries differ creatively but address climate issues in ways they hope will raise awareness and inspire change.

The Climate Video Challenge, open to California middle and high school students, is a new effort of the California Coastal Commission’s public education program.

“This year’s challenge encouraged young people to think about climate justice, which is a concept that focuses on addressing the unequal burdens of climate change and working toward equity in climate change solutions,” said Annie Frankel of the CCC public education program.

“The recognized videos addressed the topic in really different ways, both creatively and in terms of content,” she said.

La Jollan Ilan Jinich, 17, a sophomore at the San Diego Jewish Academy in Carmel Valley, submitted the video that took the top prize, laying out his concerns about pollution at the California-Mexico border.

“The past few years, the federal government has been constructing a major expansion of the border crossings that more cars can go through at a time in order to decrease traffic,” Ilan said. The effect of the expansion is more cars coming through the border, idling as they wait for entry.

The idling cars are “polluting the environment around them into the San Ysidro community, which is the border community right as you enter from Tijuana into the United States,” he said. “That’s an entire town right there. And those people are getting affected by this.”

Ilan’s video, “The Health Crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border” (, details the issue through interviews with San Ysidro-based air quality supervisors and residents who describe the effects of air pollution on health and agriculture while offering steps to mitigate the impacts.

La Jollan Ilan Jinich, 17, won first place in the Climate Video Challenge for "The Health Crisis at the U.S.-Mexico Border."
(Courtesy of Ana Jinich)

“Using a visual story is very important to portray a message,” Ilan said. “I think the best way to give a lesson or show a problem in society is through film.”

Ilan said he’s become aware of the pollution problem in San Ysidro while interning at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego. “We’re doing a lot of projects and learning about immigrant issues and a lot of environmental issues,” he said.

While researching such issues for another documentary, “I encountered the issue of San Ysidro and the border pollution there, and that’s when I got the idea to do another documentary,” he said.

Ilan has entered his video in several film festivals, winning prizes in some to go along with his $200 prize in the Climate Video Challenge.

He said he’s “very proud of the work that I’ve done. ... By submitting this video … I am able to bring more awareness to the matter.”

Ilan said he hopes policies will be adopted to “make the environment a better place for everyone, especially communities that are marginalized.”

Second place ($150) in the video challenge went to Natalie Cavander, a middle school student outside San Diego, for her entry, “What Does Climate Justice Look Like?”

Third place ($100 each) was shared by two videos: one created by a group of high school students outside San Diego (“The Climate News Network PSA”) and the other by four eighth-graders at La Jolla’s Muirlands Middle School: Solaine Bardin, Elena Grilli, Inji Hamdoun and Emma Weibel.

The Muirlands students’ video, titled “What Will We Choose?” (, features a poem written by the group members recited in Rose Canyon, an open space park east of Interstate 5.

“A woman who speaks is a woman with power,” says Katya Azzam, who coaches the Rhyme and Reason speech and debate team of eight middle school students, most of whom attend Muirlands Middle School in La Jolla.

It’s the last roundup for two La Jolla eighth-grade robotics teams that have students who have been together since elementary school and are trying to make the most of their last year before moving on to what in some cases will be different high schools.

Emma said the video “is inspired by the climate crisis and how people are complacent in the issue. There’s things that we can do every day — like having sustainable practices and buying less plastic — that people choose not to do.”

Complacency, she said, “has really big effects. … We need to make a choice and be proactive in our decisions, or else this problem is never going to be solved.”

The video features a handful of locations that represent the “prints of humanity,” Solaine said, such as train tracks running through the canyon and a recurring discussion to add a bridge over it.

“It’s this idea of, are we going to take over more?” she said. “It could be a small choice for some people, but it’s also making the right choice for our community. Is it really worth sacrificing this beautiful ecosystem for more traffic and ruining the lives of the people around us and the animals?”

“We’re inheriting this planet, so we’re the ones who cannot be complacent,” Elena said. “We’re obligated to act, and that’s in part why we wanted to write this poem.” ◆