Earth Day is an annual event created to celebrate and be thankful for everything the Earth does for us. It is a time to strengthen our relationship with nature, give back as well as find ways to protect our planet for current and future generations. The theme for Earth Day this year is “Invest in Our Planet.” This theme resonates with me (Danylo Lesko, Hammond Climate Solutions Foundation’s Climate Justice Intern) as a current graduate student because education is the best way to invest in our planet. Education is critical in driving the transition to a sustainable future, providing the tools and resources for future generations to adapt to and address the climate crisis justly and equitably. By increasing the accessibility and quality of environmental education and shaping people’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards the climate crisis, the world will see more effective, equitable and participatory change. Education can encourage people to change their behavior and attitudes and help them make informed decisions. It can empower all people and help motivate our youth to take action.
Investing in climate education is essential to provide the tools and skills needed to drive a transition to a sustainable world. The climate crisis is magnifying the inequalities present in our societies, requiring innovative solutions that address these vulnerabilities. Investing in environmental and climate education can help change behaviors that harm the environment and transform attitudes and knowledge towards actions that promote positive environmental outcomes. Forward-thinking education needs to adapt to a rapidly changing world and provide future generations with the knowledge and practical skills they need to protect our planet and those who depend on it. Orienting education to include climate action and climate justice are important steps that help provide pathways for greater involvement and societal transformation. Enhancing climate literacy by including climate justice and climate equity will help ensure students develop confidence and passion for making a positive difference in society as activists and leaders.
The climate crisis has already impacted young people with various concerns about their future, including where they will live, what work they will do and their quality of life. There is no national consensus about the importance of climate education, and the U.S. needs to have national science standards. Instead, each state determines what its schools teach, which can vary significantly between states. In 2012, the Next Generation Science Standards were developed to create a science standard for climate education. However, the standards are voluntary, and only some states have adopted these standards. Climate education allows for people to care for the planet while caring for each other. Social-emotional learning refers to the skills people need to be successful in life, such as goal setting, managing emotions, problem-solving, cultivating empathy, relationship skills and self-awareness. Incorporating social-emotional learning in climate education recognizes that humans are part of nature, helping promote an understanding of environmental justice issues and fostering collaborative problem-solving that addresses both planetary and human needs. Investing in climate education provides pathways for future generations to explore solutions that tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Investing in climate education is a way for students not only to learn about the climate crisis, but it also provides an opportunity for students to realize their own agency as climate justice leaders through interdisciplinary approaches rooted in social justice.
Student leaders in Portland, Oregon helped transform climate education in the Portland Public Schools by advocating for a greater focus on climate and equity in their education. These student leaders helped initiate a climate justice curriculum that highlights climate resilience and how responsive the earth and marginalized and frontlines communities are to the impacts of climate change. Throughout the curriculum, students gain a deep understanding of how intertwined the climate crisis and climate justice really are and the ways both impact every aspect of their lives. A big part of this curriculum is looking at solutions and policy, which gives students an opportunity to identify how they can take action to address climate action and climate justice head on. Such approaches provide students with the background information they need to engage in activism that is very meaningful while providing a way to combat climate anxieties they may feel and empowering students to become transformative racial equity leaders and global stewards. When climate education is rooted in social equity that empowers students to take intersectional approaches that address all aspects of the climate crisis it helps lift up communities that are disproportionately affected, helping lift everyone with them.
Each of us has the effective power to make our voices heard through the choices we make, our civic actions and personal interactions. What we do and how we do it has a huge impact on the planet and civic society. We can use our power to support actions that protect our environment and investing in education provides a pathway for collective action and transformation! We invite you to celebrate Earth Day this year by supporting climate education in your communities, and what better way than turning learning into action? Find an Earth Day event near you here, join in climate activism and celebrate the accomplishments of advancing climate justice and equity!
Photo credit: Earth Day