Having lived their entire lives in a world that’s aware of climate disruption, children today have already learned a vast amount about the topic. A variety of experts are furthering this cause, understanding the need for this generation to both bear the weight of scientific fact and look forward to the many possibilities of a sustainable future.
Parent Teacher Association meetings are only one of the many arenas in which climate learning is discussed. Although the groups can be quite political internally, the National Center for Science Education’s Minda Berbeco believes that everyone involved is deeply focused on advocating for the kids. “It was [within] the PTA of California [that] the majority of the folks agreed that climate change is a children's issue and the PTA should be doing more to help schools bring climate change into their classrooms.”
Outside the classroom, educators can rely on the help of scientists like Bill Nye who present complex science-backed ideas in an entertaining and accessible way. Alex Zwissler headed the Chabot Space and Science Center when the Bill Nye Climate Lab was brought there, and he thinks Nye’s work is vital for the movement. “How do we give our kids a positive vision of the future? Bottom line it's communicating a message about and empowering the kids… So they don't feel powerless and that also they become then advocates within their own families within their own schools.”
Of course, these efforts aren’t without their challenges. In the school system, often the pushback can be from parents questioning the science behind the curriculum on climate disruption. Berbeco has seen it everywhere, including an easter state in which a teacher colleague of hers was working. One of the school’s board members demanded every piece of material he had on climate change, and hired an expert to check them for errors. According to the alleged expert, the materials were all junk. That teacher “cited the very radical groups like NASA and NOAA, in all of his work,” says Berbeco. “All his T’s were crossed, all his I’s were dotted and yet you still had this challenge.”
For students armed with knowledge and a passion for change, there are groups, like NatureBridge, through which they can become active in their communities. Student activist Luiz Martinez now works with that group teaching other youth throughout the Bay Area about climate disruption through interactive games. He sees the issues of poverty, affordable housing, and food deserts interlinked with those of climate change, but feels especially passionate about the impact of livestock. “I want you all to know like that meat in general is a very carbon intensive commodity. It’s a commodity. It’s not required.”
Although UC Berkeley student and activist Giada Amador agrees, she sees value in tempering a potentially condemning message. Originally from a town outside of Modesto, she has seen her hometown become more climate aware over the years she’s been away. But it doesn’t seem like a good idea to come at them with accusations of wrongdoing and a strict mandate to change their lifestyles. Instead she thinks “there are ways to empower those communities rather than turning them off from the idea that they should be changing it all.”
One Alliance for Climate Education’s fellows, Ryan Condesa, had a watershed moment while watching one of their presentations. The presentation was on climate disruption and the impact it has across the local, regional and global community. “From there I was be able to make a connection from being one man standing against the crowd to [being part of] a network of people who are interested in climate education and climate justice.”
Learning Green is Part I of our Earth Day Series. You can find Part II here.
Written by: Ellen Cohan
Photography: Elese Moran