By Kelly McCarthy
September 19, 2019
Dozens of K–12 educators came to D.C.—and AGU headquarters—this summer to learn practical ways to tackle climate change that they can pass along to their students.
“We recognize that youth will inherit the unparalleled impacts of climate change and are among our most powerful advocates.”
This is the motivation—one of the “core beliefs”—behind Climate Generation, founded by National Geographic Society explorer and educator Will Steger. The nonprofit organization brought dozens of K–12 teachers to Washington, D.C., in August to immerse themselves in climate change education to give them a foundation to help better integrate it into their curriculua.
The Summer Institute for Climate Change Education, a partnership with the Lowell School and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Office, was a multiday professional development experience to generate ideas and build new relationships that will help teachers to empower their students, whom they call the “climate generation.” AGU invited the group to spend its final day of the program at its Washington, D.C., headquarters to tour the first net-zero energy renovated commercial building in the city, one of many examples of climate action they explored during the trip.
Melissa Deas, a climate program analyst from the city’s Department of Energy and Environment, led the group in a discussion around Washington, D.C.’s Climate Action Plan, followed by a conversation with Janice Lachance, AGU’s executive vice president of strategic leadership and global outreach, who shared the history, challenges, and successes of embarking on a net-zero energy renovation project. Cristine Gibney, net-zero building operation specialist, led the teachers on a tour, pointing out examples of innovations communities can put into action to reduce energy use and emissions.
This was the fourteenth annual summer institute, which focused this year on integrating climate change into humanities classrooms. Kristin Poppleton, the program’s director, said, “We want to make sure it’s clear that the goal of the program is climate change education,” rather than strictly climate science. “The science is not isolated from the social, political, or cultural aspects of climate change.” She explained that for a long time, climate change education remained mostly in the science classroom. This year, the teachers learned how to teach climate education through literature and the arts and found strategies to make sure that empathy and culture are part of the conversation.
Those strategies were reflected in the conversation at AGU headquarters. Taking refuge from the summer heat beneath the ceiling tile exchange system, or radiant cooling system, educators reflected on their experience throughout the program, considering the layers of social justice with regard to the science-based solutions observed. “Successful programs that support vulnerable communities are not developed solely through infrastructure but through human connection,” said Megan Van Loh, the education coordinator at Climate Generation.
Craig Johnson, a Minnesota-based environmental and climate educator, has been working with the Climate Generation program almost since its inception. In 2007, he and Steger led high school students on an expedition to Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic, where they initiated an education exchange with an indigenous community experiencing the impacts of climate change. Since then, Johnson has been a champion of programs spearheaded through Climate Generation and recognizes the power of the #TeachClimate Network.
For others, the experiences gleaned from the program provide new additions to a growing tool kit used to prepare a younger generation for the future. Concetta Young, a third-grade teacher from a rural school district in western New York, explained that she had been seeking out resources to bring climate science into her classroom and came across the institute. She now has examples of real-world, community-based solutions that she can bring back to her students. “It is important to treat [third graders] as responsible and capable citizens of the globe,” she said. “Treat them as stakeholders.”
The summer institute for educators is just one of many programs Climate Generation carries out to equip the next leaders, scientists, and members of the workforce with the tools, knowledge, and skills necessary to tackle the rising consequences of climate change around the globe.
This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
Citation: McCarthy, K. (2019), How teachers can empower the climate generation, Eos, 100, https://doi.org/10.1029/2019EO133565. Published on 19 September 2019.