Kate Heffernan is interning this summer at NCSE, where she is working with Minda Berbeco on teacher outreach activities. A recent graduate of the University of Florida, her undergraduate studies focused on environmental policy and education.
Growing up in South Florida was a kid’s paradise. I was only an hour from the wild and mysterious Everglades, fifteen minutes from the beach, and best of all, I was able to play outside every day. On the weekends, my dad would take my sister and me kayaking on the Loxahatchee River, pointing out different birds and narrowly avoiding encounters with alligators. Childhood summers were spent traveling outside of Florida with trips to America’s spectacular national parks, from Joshua Tree to Shenandoah to Glacier. Over the years, my love and appreciation for the environment blossomed.
As I grew older, I became increasingly aware of the changing climate that threatened the natural world that I had come to love. In middle school, my seventh grade science teacher taught us about the process of climate change, the human influence, and the future implications of a warming climate. That very week, I watched An Inconvenient Truth with my family. I saw my beloved beaches and parts of the Everglades swallowed up on the IPCC’s maps of projected sea level rise. Needless to say, I was concerned, and with the help of my mother, I was able to turn concern into action.
A week after watching An Inconvenient Truth, I was walking through the halls of my middle school, collecting signatures for a petition I had drafted opposing oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I was able to gather fifty signatures from my fellow students, and mailed the petition to Alaskan senator Lisa Murkowski. I felt a sense of empowerment from the petition—I saw something that was going to damage the environment and I was able to do something about it! This feeling of empowerment truly resonated with me, influencing my undergraduate studies and setting me on a path toward a career in environmental advocacy.
While in college, climate change denial piqued my interest. It astonished me that people were allowing ideology to cloud their judgment on anthropogenic climate change, choosing to disregard the 97% of peer-reviewed scientific articles on the causes of global warming that support the theory, instead favoring positions on climate change that suit their worldviews. I found this both alarming and perplexing: how could one persuade people to support programs that combat climate change if they don’t even believe that the problem exists? As time went on, it became clear to me that education is the key first step in creating a more sustainable world. Shared knowledge about climate science creates a foundation for each of us to build upon so that we can develop into educated, informed, and active citizens.
With a fresh degree in my hands and hope in my heart, I am trying my hand in advocating for climate change education. And really, I’ve hit the trifecta with my internship with NCSE: policy, education, and science advocacy. All three must go hand in hand, working together to ensure that teachers are free to give students the education they deserve: an education based on scientific fact and evidence-backed theories instead of personal ideology. So here I am, 3,000 miles away from the sunny beaches and pristine springs of Florida, which I’ve traded for a summer of the chilly fog and towering redwoods of the Bay Area. I cannot wait to see what kind of impact I can make on science education while working with NCSE, and to play my part in making the world a more sustainable and resilient place to live in.