They say that "no news is good news" and it is easy to come to that conclusion when it comes to climate change.
News of the gloom and doom variety does seem the norm as attempts to ratchet down carbon emissions struggle for traction while "business as usual" fossil fuel combustion continues to spew heat trapping gases by the gigaton. The scientific reality of climate change and the serious implications of the research bring up many challenges for climate education.
Chapter 7 of Climate Smart & Energy Wise, which I'll summarize in the next post, focuses on strategies to combat doubt, denial, and despair—a deadly trio that can de-motivate young learners—and the general public, too.
The best way to counter doom and gloom is to emphasize the positive, and in Chapter 6 I lay out some of the good news beyond new standards and high quality resources—and there is a great deal of it. For example, there are some stellar programs that are working on these issues and coming up with suggestions for combating climate change.
Many of these effective practices can be replicated and scaled down for implementation in schools. The greening of education is not new. It arguably began as part of the boom in general environmental awareness in the late 1960s. This time in American history was something of a golden age for environmental action and awareness, when public pressure and bipartisan support led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and a burst of environmental legislation to regulate air and water pollution.
Over the decades, environmental education as a phenomenon became focused less on environmental science and more on changing people's behavior. Practices like recycling and outdoor experiential education were emphasized, and these were certainly important topics.
However, the result has been that climate-specific education has often been missing or avoided, even in otherwise well intended environmental and energy education programs. What are some of the programs I highlight that can help bring optimistic and motivational climate science into schools?
One is the Alliance for Climate Education, known affectionately as ACE (rhymes with space). Based in Oakland, CA, a few blocks from NCSE headquarters, ACE maintains a network of educators and support staff located in major cities around the United States. These educators come to high schools and educate and entertain students in an assembly format.
To date, nearly two million students have attended an ACE assembly and experienced the organization’s engaging style of "edutainment" in which material covering basic climate science and practical responses to reduce emissions is delivered through a mix of projected animations and live presentations.
But the assembly is just the start. Teachers use the event as a "teachable moment," building upon its foundation in both science and social studies classes. Students become motivated to learn more, and some take advantage of the networking and youth leadership opportunities that ACE offers. Schools have benefitted from the infusion of energy and creativity the assemblies seem to spark, and students inspired by ACE have gone on to pursue related interests in college.
There are other programs—a summer climate institute for motivated middle school students in Colorado, green school initiatives scattered hither and yon around the US and beyond, and individual efforts to add solar panels to a school through a Kickstarter campaigns or improvement bonds—all good ideas that have enormous potential for being expanded on a larger scale.
In higher education, colleges and universities as different as Arizona State University and Butte Community College are well on their way to meet their energy needs from renewable sources, such as solar power. The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment, organized by the Boston-based Second Nature, has played a vital role in helping push for this transformation, as have students and faculty, working at the grassroots level.
The emerging theme of all of these programs, which are almost always under-funded and bootstrapped, is one of optimism and hope, not doom and gloom. And the experiences will serve the students they engage in the years and decades to come—come what may.