As a climate science advocate, I am always surprised to meet individuals who can’t explain the difference between weather and climate. There is a clear knowledge gap between the potential impacts of climate change and what citizens can do to curb its effects.
Currently, a movement of student leaders in New York City is asking education policy decision-makers to mandate climate science education for all public school students in New York City.
Annie Willis, a New York City high school student, called education leaders into action, saying, “I am angry that Sandy destroyed my house and that over two years later high school students are not being properly informed. Students have the right to know about the causes of climate change and the solutions to address it.”
New York City council members Costa Constantinides and Donovan Richards listened to young constituents such as Annie and worked together to introduce Resolution 0375-2014.
Student leaders like Annie see the resolution as a critical step to arming students with the climate change knowledge they need to create a more just, resilient and stable future.
Although the resolution has passed, it has no legal backing.
The students will now take their campaign and this resolution to New York State officials that oversee curriculum.
With the looming threat of rising sea levels and superstorms, education officials in New York City and across the country need to act fast.
NASA climate studies reveal that sea levels have risen just over 1 foot in New York City since 1900:
That is almost twice the observed global rate of 0.5 to 0.7 inches per decade over a similar time period, Projections for sea level rise in New York City increase from 11 inches to 21 inches by the 2050s, 18 inches to 39 inches by the 2080s, and, 22 inches to 50 inches, with the worst case of up to six feet, by 2100.
New York City is just one example of what could happen to many other major coastal cities.
An alarming survey published in February by researchers at Penn State University and the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), collected data from 1,500 U.S. science teachers and found that 30 percent of teachers said they taught students that climate change is “likely due to natural causes.”
Another 31 percent said they teach climate change as unsettled science.
Thirteen states and Washington, D.C., have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which not only cover climate change but also acknowledge that humans are influencing it.
Some states, like South Carolina, have blocked the standards, whereas Wyoming’s attempts to block the standards were later reversed. In contrast, some cities such as Portland have gone as far as banning climate-denying textbooks and adding additional climate change instruction.
In May, the school board in Portland, Oregon passed the country’s first “climate justice” resolution, recognizing the need for classrooms to discuss how communities of color are the most likely to be impacted by climate change.
According to the resolution, students in city schools should:
…develop confidence and passion when it comes to making a positive difference in society, and come to see themselves as activists and leaders for social and environmental justice—especially through seeing the diversity of people around the world who are fighting the root causes of climate change…
School districts like Portland’s recognize it’s hard to fix a problem when no one has a true understanding of it, and climate science mandates are only a part of the solution.