Editorial: Climate Literacy Needed in Schools

We live in a country where no one believes there is a problem until it happens to them. Scientists say we have a limited amount of time until there are major catastrophic effects due to climate change. It is essential that we transform our sources of energy, eliminate or at least drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and minimize methane emissions from agriculture and industry. Without these changes, we cannot prevent the worst effects of climate change.  

The impact of climate change can be seen globally and locally. As a teenager living in Florida, I have seen firsthand the adverse effects of climate change since my childhood. We have witnessed a marked increase in the frequency of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes hitting the Atlantic Coast and states bordering the Gulf of Mexico. In 2018, Category 5 Hurricane Michael developed rapidly and passed over the Florida Panhandle, causing massive destruction and economic loss. The town of Mexico Beach, Fla. was demolished in the path of the storm, leaving inhabitants with no homes to return to. In California, numerous wildfires destroy millions of acres annually. This year, the Amazon Rainforest went up in flames, resulting in the loss of an entire ecosystem. Now, the fires have moved to the Cerrado savanna in Brazil, creating what has been called one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet. In the Midwest, farmland has been destroyed by floods, threatening the ability for farmers to grow crops. It is obvious that the climate crisis is worsening at a rapid pace.  

“Our planet is burning up.”

For example, if the melting of the ice caps continues at the current rate, there will be severe environmental consequences. This past summer in Greenland, 11 billion tons of surface ice melted in one day. If Greenland melts entirely, sea levels could rise by 23 feet. This would wipe out much of coastal Florida and the Atlantic coastline, all the way up to Canada. If greenhouse gas emissions continue at the current rate, the atmosphere will warm up by as much as 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2040, destroying coastlines and intensifying droughts and poverty. Scientists have estimated that the most severe effects of climate change will occur at a rise of three to four degrees. Our planet is burning up. 

Currently, the amount of days that Gainesville reaches 90 degrees or higher is 125 per year and increasing. At this rate, the number of days higher than 90 degrees will approach half of the year by the time I reach an advanced age. My grandmother is in her 80’s and must return to the New York area every summer to avoid the scorching Florida heat. Fortunately, she has the means to do so. Many older adults do not have these resources, which forces them to remain in an area with high temperatures, further introducing them to increased illness and death rates. Those most at risk include the elderly, infants, those with chronic illnesses, and people in lower-income areas who cannot afford the resources to protect them from the heat. 

Prior to 2016, legislation was enacted to begin addressing these problems. The United States played a major role in creating an international treaty to combat climate change, but unfortunately, the current administration withdrew our country from these agreements. In 2017, the Trump Administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement, deeming it “unnecessary and harmful”. This means that the strides we are taking are no longer in play, leaving our country without adequate leadership or policy to fight for our future. Through executive orders, the aforementioned administration has also begun to dismantle the various environmental protections that were put into place over the last three decades and have deregulated many industries that contribute to pollution.

“We give all levels of the government no choice but to hear our voices. It’s up to them to decide whether to listen.”

The majority of U.S. citizens understand that climate change is a serious problem, yet the current political climate has resulted in stagnation. Climate change isn’t a debatable issue. While private citizens are taking matters into their own hands and donating large sums of money to create better solutions, the threats associated with climate change will ultimately require a national effort. Since it seems unlikely that current representatives in power will take the necessary steps to prevent further damage to our planet, a change in leadership starting at the local level is essential. Americans must vote for leaders who will take these catastrophic climate events seriously by enacting policies to prevent further devastation. This includes ending fossil fuel extraction and subsidies, transitioning to 100 percent clean renewable energy by 2035, expanding public transportation, and strict emission reductions.

If we implement more lessons on climate change into school curriculums, we can prepare the next generation of youth to combat climate change through “climate literacy”. Through its Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development program, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) aims to make climate change education a more central and visible part of the international response to climate change. The program aims to help people understand the impact of global warming today and increase “climate literacy” among young people. It does this by strengthening the capacity of its member states to provide quality climate change education, encouraging innovative teaching approaches to integrate climate change education in schools, and by raising awareness about climate change as well as enhancing non-formal education programs through media, networking, and partnerships.

Students deserve to know what is happening in our world and what the future holds…not when they are old enough to vote, but now. We give all levels of the government no choice but to hear our voices. It’s up to them to decide whether to listen. Whether they choose to believe the science, it is definite this will impact current and future generations.

While some of us are too young to vote, the youth of America can still make a difference in the climate crisis. One of the greatest powers we hold is our voice. Becoming an activist and fighting for our Earth through education is the first step toward a green future. Tell others about the climate crisis whenever possible. If we don’t stand up and demand action, then who will? 

By Lauren Cohen