Preparing for my education focus at the Climate Conference

“Education is a secret weapon in fighting climate change.”

That is an approximation of a quote I recently heard. The speaker was referring to the long term effort that is needed to combat and adapt to climate change and the role education can play in supporting the efforts of the current and next generations of students. Educators are certainly concerned about how to teach about climate change science and social responses as new standards are being developed and implemented in science and social studies. The public discourse on climate change was on the mind of many science teachers as they participated in the March for Science on Earth Day in April.

So, I am glad that I have an opportunity to be an ear for and a voice of K–12 education at the UN Climate Conference. It is especially an honor to represent Climate Generation, which has done great work to support teachers with climate change workshops and curriculum resources. When I meet climate education professionals from other parts of the country, they admire the work that Climate Generation has accomplished.

By way of a quick introduction, I am currently the Science Specialist for the Minnesota Department of Education. I taught earth science and environmental science with weather and climate being a favorite unit of mine. Over time, the priority issues have shifted from acid rain and ozone layer thinning to climate change. A couple key elements in instruction included scientific understanding of the processes involved and the human contributions to both problems and potential solutions.

I will attend the second week of the conference, Nov. 12 – 17. This is the period when the representative of the each nation give statements on their plans and the conference declarations are finalized. I am planning to attend many side meetings during the conference. On Thursday, Nov. 16, there is a focus on education with sessions discussing the role that education plays in carrying out the Paris Agreement and helping nations achieve their goals. Sessions will also highlight how education can stimulate individual actions and empower youth engagement.

A large focus of this conference will be on how local governments and organizations can carry out the goals of the Paris accords. This will certainly be on the minds of U.S. citizens attending and observing the conference. A few governors are attending and presenting side sessions on local collaborations that are active in their states. In several cases, schools and informal education (e.g. museums and nature centers) are partners in city and regional programs.

Another one of my interests regarding the conference arises from my previous service in the Peace Corps in Liberia. I taught at a rural teacher training institute for four years in the 70s, and I had the great opportunity to return to teach there last year. I asked traditional farmers of hillside rice if they noticed any changes in the climate. They stated that the transitions between the rainy and dry seasons are more unpredictable. This makes it difficult to determine when to clear and burn brush and do their planting. They are noticing that storms seem to be more intense. In the urban area, many poor squatters live in low-lying areas around a large lagoon. When I walked in those areas, I experienced the encroachment of seawater into paths and abandoned houses. I will be interested in the conversations about assistance for these poorest countries in protecting and moving at-risk populations.

On the personal side, I have been cramming a review of the German that I studied in high school and have never used. In reality, this has been mostly new learning. I am planning for a few days of traveling in Germany after the conference.

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