By Michael Haas, Founder of Alliance for Climate Education (ACE)
Knowledge is power. And in the face of climate change, where time is our enemy, we are putting up a weak fight.
In stark contrast to the scientific consensus, only 49% of Americans believe that global warming is a result of human activity. In other words, more than half the country either denies global warming entirely or believes it to be a natural phenomenon. When you consider the lack of climate science education in our schools and the billions of dollars being spent to debunk global warming, this widespread misinformation is no surprise. In this time of crisis, we need an informed and engaged public. We need to bridge the gap between what the scientists know about the threat, and what the general public understands. As our planet warms, our focus must be on educating young people so that they are ready to start working on solutions right now.
Over the past few weeks, the climate conversation has once again been energized by a report released by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Produced by 2,500 international experts, the IPCC’s report highlights the devastating effects of climate change in every corner of the globe. Record-setting heat waves in Australia and China; flooding in Central Europe, India and Sudan; hurricanes ravaging the East Coast; typhoons plaguing the Philippines; wildfires across Colorado; and devastating droughts in my home state of California. Global warming is beginning to touch us all, and scientists warn that the impact will become increasingly more destructive.
In 2008, deeply concerned by the widespread lack of education and misinformation surrounding the science of climate change, I started the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE). Our organization aims to bring climate education to 12 million high school students by 2020, knowing that our future depends on the ideas and actions of young people. While ACE has already reached nearly 2 million students across the country with our educational programs, we are fighting an uphill battle. There are over 54 million students enrolled in K-12 education in the US and the vast majority do not have access to climate science education. And at schools that we have reached, we find that ACE programs are often the only climate science resource available to students and teachers.
The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have the power to help reverse this trend. NGSS will make climate science a staple of the science curriculum in classrooms across the country. The standards are the first major update to K-12 science curriculum in over a decade, and are an interstate collaboration between education agencies, nonprofits and teachers’ associations.
However, instead of embracing this vital improvement in science education, some states are actively fighting against it. Wyoming has included a stipulation in its state budget that forbids state funds from being used to review or adopt NGSS. Groups in Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona have pushed bills to require teaching climate change denial in schools. This war on science and our children’s future must stop.
The next generation of inventors, policymakers, and CEOs will determine the fate of the environment and our economy. In order to ensure that these future leaders are up to the challenge, a commitment to comprehensive climate science education is needed today. Investing in science has helped us achieve the seemingly impossible before – from the moon landing, to the Internet, to incredible advances in medicine. It is time that we make that investment once again by quickly implementing the Next Generation Science Standards in all fifty states. Educating our young people about climate science and solutions will help America to lead this global effort.
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