Advancing Climate Change Education in Minnesota

The Minnesota Environmental Quality Board convened all Minnesota COP21 attendees in a conversation at the Science Museum on January 12, 2016. We discussed what we learned and what the Paris Agreement means for all of us as far as next steps. (A short radio piece summarized the event which you can access here.) The event included speakers in policy, business, youth and our very own Education Ambassador Beckie Alexander. Beckie read the following which includes a plea to include climate change in Minnesota’s education standards. Climate Generation realizes the importance of making climate change part of the standards; essentially giving teachers “permission” to teach about it in the classroom and in the coming two years we will be following Minnesota’s science standard revision process closely. Stay tuned!

Beckie AlexanderOn December 9, 2015, I found myself standing on a crowded sidewalk in Paris. It was a bright, clear day, people were bursting out of the metro, cars were careening around the Place de la Concord, the people out and about smiled and chatted quietly. Nothing about the atmosphere around me foreshadowed the intensity of the hour that lay ahead. (Well, except for the barricades, the heavily armed men, and the metal detectors, for I was standing outside the American Embassy in Paris.)

I attended COP21 as part of the Climate Generation: A Will Steger Legacy “Window into Paris” delegation.  Our Climate Generation group of 10 educators from 5 states, and two education advocates, was the only delegation of educators attending COP21 from the United States.

While waiting our turns at the first set of security outside the Embassy, the Culligan Water man arrived! I kid you not. A Culligan water truck pulled into the US Embassy in Paris! I did notice that the Culligan man’s entry into the Embassy was significantly faster than ours. After clearing the second round of security, our group was escorted up a beautiful winding staircase into a second floor library to meet with Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s lead science advisor. We were there to present to Dr. Holdren the position statements, directives, and hopes regarding climate change that we had gathered from our students this past fall. None of us were prepared for the emotional intensity of that hour-long meeting. I believe it was in that hour, as we relayed the messages from our students, that we as educators were overwhelmed by the magnitude of our responsibility. It is our responsibility to ensure that our students are educated in climate science, so that they can enter the world prepared to face the climate challenges we are leaving them. The enormity and the importance of the task moved us all to tears. We left inspired by Dr. Holdren’s words and his work.

I have the great pleasure of spending my days with 14-year-old students. Their energy and exuberance is both exhausting and energizing. Their desire to understand the world around them is contagious. I teach 8th grade at Breck School in Golden Valley. I am also the parent to a 6th grader and an 8th grader who attend Minneapolis Public Schools. Our goal as a group of educators and advocates was to connect classrooms in the U.S. with COP21 in France. We also worked, and continue to work, to raise awareness around the importance of climate change education, and we strive to elevate the voice of youth in this effort. This was accomplished at COP21 via video conferencing back to classrooms, daily blogging, and spreading the words of our students to key decision-makers.

Article 12 of the Paris Agreement calls “to enhance climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation and public access to information, recognizing the importance of these steps with respect to enhancing actions under this Agreement.” This is our call to action. In order for the Paris Agreement to succeed, we must have a populace that is educated in climate science. This education starts in our schools. The goals of the Paris Agreement are based on technology that is not yet in existence. The development of this technology rests on the students of today. In 2023, the year of the first “stocktake,” as mandated by the Agreement, my 8th graders will be 21 years old. The students of today, students of all ages, bear the weight of this document. They will grow up with this document. The students of today will be the innovators, the designers, the regulators, the number crunchers, the parents, the citizens of the world that will be implementing and living with the Paris Agreement. In order to effectively carry the burden the world has given them, it is important that all students leave high school fully versed in climate science. Students must enter college, technical school, vocational school, or the workplace with competence and confidence in climate science. In 2018, the Minnesota science standards are up for review. It is imperative that climate change education be added into the next Minnesota science standards; it is currently absent. We owe it to the youth of today, the leaders of tomorrow, to give them the best chance at success in dealing with the climate crisis. Climate change education allows for the study of not only earth science, chemistry, biology, and math, but also allows for interdisciplinary study incorporating government, social studies, history, language, economics, and, of course, politics. With climate change education, we can also teach to empathy and privilege, as we know that those closest to poverty are the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The students of today will be living with, adapting to, and solving issues related to climate change. These kids will be the problem solvers, the critical thinkers, the agents of change for the future. I have full confidence in them, but we must heed the mandate of Article 12 and ensure that all of our students are educated about, and prepared for, the climate challenges ahead.

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