Education: Our Strongest Defense Against Climate Change

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Theodora Hirmes

Lessons about Climate Change need to be a bigger part of our curriculum. We need more than a couple slides on this issue. While these tips are useful, we need more radical change if we hope to solve the Climate Crisis.

 

It’s an all too familiar feeling. I’m sitting in class, trying not to get too excited. Could this be it? Are we about to discuss one of the most urgent problems facing our society today? I sit up straighter in my desk.  I assume a discussion about Climate Change would follow the powerpoint slide titled “The Greenhouse Effect.” 

But I am wrong. 

We hear the words “Climate Change” only a few times, and no concrete definition appears on the slideshow. One slide focuses on ways we can address Climate Change, but it is brief and basic: turn off the lights, conserve energy. A few slides with graphs from 2015 or earlier, and the presentation was over. 

Call me optimistic, but I was hoping for more than 10 minutes of Climate Change Education in science class.

I propose a radical change in our schools’ curricula that will work to educate students about what Climate Change is and provide solutions for how to solve it”

The bell rang, and I left class feeling frustrated. How can we tackle this problem if most of the next generation isn’t even being taught about it?

The current volume of information teachers must cover in a year affords them little to no time to address Climate Change. This is a huge problem. Our school administration needs to allocate more time to educating students about one of the most menacing problems our society faces today: Climate Change. This demand’s our curriculum’s attention.

 According to NASA, we can define Climate Change as drastic changes in the atmosphere temperature, unpredictable weather, and high levels of carbon dioxide in the air. If you want to read more about how we know Climate Change is real and happening, click this link.

 

Many youth climate activists around the world are pushing to incorporate teaching about Climate Change into their schools’ curricula.

An NPR poll found that 80% of parents and 86% of teachers in the U.S support teaching about climate change. But most of the teachers that were polled don’t actually discuss it in their classrooms. And also according to the poll less than half of parents discuss the issue with their children. 

Why is this? Well, when teachers involved in the NPR poll were asked this question, most said it ranked near the bottom of their priority. Others said they didn’t have the materials, and not enough time to  teach it or didn’t have enough information about it. 

We need a radical change if we want to tackle Climate Change, and that change starts with education. School is where we learn, where we develop ways to think and understand the world. To me, it doesn’t make sense that talking about Climate Change wouldn’t be a priority. 

Students are feeling the effects of the Climate Crisis every day. For many students, Climate Change is not just a scary idea – it is a tangible threat to their livelihood. Over 9 million US students across nine states and Puerto Rico have missed some school because of natural disasters. 

Whether Climate Change takes the form of wildfires, hurricanes, or droughts, the Crisis is here. It is not time to put it on the back burner.

Here in Rhinebeck, we have the opportunity to make change. Many of our students, fueled by a burning passion, have dedicated significant swaths of their time and energy to combating climate change in our town.

Katie Hall, Co-President of the RHS Environmental Club, has organized a persistent wave of climate action. I worked with Katie and Scout [last name?], another accomplished climate activist and RHS student, and Annika Haile to organize a climate strike this September. 

In addition to striking, for the past 6 months, Katie has been helping plan the YESS! Ashokan Climate Summit. She has also been running many recycling programs and co founded “The Last Straw.” which helps reduce plastic in business. 

When I spoke with her about Climate Change curriculum, she proposed that English classes could teach “Environmental Sustainability as a short unit where students could read poetry and books exploring the threat of climate change and our relationship with nature.” 

Katie also encouraged students to take their Climate Change education into their own hands: join the Environmental Club, attend Climate Summits – and, most importantly, read. I recommend Project Drawdown by Paul Hawken , The Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore  , and The Sixth Mass Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert.

But simply because we can teach ourselves about Climate Change, doesn’t mean the subject should be absent from our curriculum.

Ms. DeStrange, a history teacher at RHS and an avid climate activist, discussed Climate curriculum with me. She explained that she incorporates Climate Change in her curriculum, through an Earth Day project and a discussion of the green political movement in her AP World History class. 

But she “[does] not believe it’s currently part of NY state curriculum though.”

Ms. DeStrange would love to see teaching about Climate Change incorporated in our curriculum: “It seems so much of what we focus on won’t be possible if we don’t have a planet to live on! When we study history, [we] see how in a relatively short amount of time we have destroyed our planet.”

Right now, she doesn’t feel like there is enough room in the curriculum to address climate crisis in the depth it deserves – but she believes the curriculum should make room for this important topic. 

One idea Ms. DeStrange and I discussed stuck out to me: the creation of a Director of Sustainability position at our school. Many schools across the country have one, but we do not. A Director of Sustainability monitors schools environmental impact, educate students, and work to reduce their carbon footprint.

Perhaps if we could add a position like this to our school we could become a more climate-smart community. 

And considering that current Superintendent Phelan is retiring this year, the Board of Education could look for a superintendent that is passionate about Climate Change. 

Adding texts to the curriculum of science classes such as Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming would give students a concrete set of plans to tackle this issue. It would bring teaching about Climate Change into schools without teachers having to have a mass amount of knowledge about it.

Marvin Kreps, our school’s curriculum director, expressed great interest in the topic. He is more than happy to meet to discuss these issues with concerned students. To do this, one simply has to reach out to Dr. Davenport and request a meeting. 

The next step is going to be gathering passionate teachers and students who want to see Climate Change in their lesson plans.  Then bringing these ideas to the Board of Education, our new Superintendent, Dr. Davenport, Mr. Kreps, and even the Mayor. 

Solving The Climate Crisis will be a group effort. 

 I propose a radical change in our schools’ curricula that will work to educate students about what Climate Change is and provide solutions for how to solve it.

 This can not be postponed, it has to happen now, and it has to be put at the forefront of our priorities. 

My vision is to have a curriculum where we spend more time talking about Climate Change than roller coaster physics.