The classroom is the right place to start educating our citizens about the greatest challenge they will face.
The reality of climate change is here, and the science behind our warming planet is clear. July and August 2016 were the hottest months in recorded history. And last year was the hottest on record. Wildfires have scorched California. Thousand-year floods have devastated Louisiana. Temperatures are soaring. Sea levels are rising. Weather is more extreme. Greenhouse gases have been steadily increasing for decades.
But the trove of research and resulting evidence for human-caused climate change still leaves us with questions. Many of us don’t know how climate change will affect us, collectively and individually. We aren’t certain how we are responsible or what can we do about it.
With nothing less than the future of our planet at stake, the teaching of facts and promotion of understanding must be the order of the day. That is why we introduced the Climate Change Education Act in the US House and the Senate. The legislation would require the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) to create a Climate Change Education Program geared towards teaching students and others about climate change.
In much the same way we teach our children the ABCs as a foundation for a lifetime of learning, we must encourage a national discussion, especially with our youth, about how we can reduce our carbon footprint and serve as stewards of our environment.
This Climate Change Education Program would explore climate change solutions, the dangers we face in a warming world, and the small changes in daily routines that can have a profound global impact. It would promote education about national strategies for resilience to the effects of climate change, including extreme weather events and rising sea levels. It would look at how to make sure our infrastructure is safe and reliable. The program would also incorporate the latest scientific and technological discoveries and provide formal and informal learning opportunities to people of all ages.
The legislation would establish a grant program to support public outreach programs, improve quality and access to education for green-collar jobs, and build capacity so local communities can address climate mitigation and adaptation issues.
We can feel, see and hear the impacts of climate change every day. Here in the United States, families are already preparing to leave their homes as they gradually become submerged, as in the case of Isle de Jean Charles, Louisiana.
California has been particularly hard hit by the most dire consequences of climate change: droughts, wildfires and air pollution. Record-breaking drought now running five years has yielded wildfires that have burned up millions of acres. Climate change has led to the first extinction of a species of mammal, the Bramble Cay melomy in Australia. It is also expanding the risk of outbreaks of diseases such as Lyme disease, West Nile fever and water-borne diseases.
The historic Paris agreement signed last year and adopted this month by the United States has united the countries of the world in action on climate change. To achieve the objective of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of avoiding dangerous global warming, all countries of the world will need to do more individually and collectively.
If the United States is going to lead this international coalition, it must begin its commitment at home. And that must include educating our people, especially our students and young people, about what we all can and must do to implement solutions to the climate crisis, including the deployment of clean energy and the expansion of energy efficiency. The US must demonstrate how people working together can achieve even greater carbon pollution reductions, grow our economies and create jobs.
There is a trove of science behind climate change but there is still much more to learn, especially about the consequences of climate change. It is time we began to learn together, as families, as communities and as a country. If only because we are truly in this together.