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Former education officials in the U.S. have penned an open letter to the incoming Biden-Harris administration, urging for the introduction of climate education in schools. The letter, which has been supported by a number of prominent former Cabinet ministers, officials and academic scholars, argues it is imperative for the country’s 50 million children to prepare for the impacts of climate change and “advance a more sustainable world”.
John King, the former education secretary and New Jersey governor Christine Whitman, who also previously served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Bush administration, have led an open letter urging the new Biden-Harris to teach the country’s youth about the climate crisis.
“With over 50 million children enrolled in public schools, education can help prepare children and youth to advance a more sustainable world. Whether future engineers, solar installers, business leaders, farmers, or policymakers, the next generation will face the impacts of climate change,” the letter says.
Currently, students in a majority of U.S. states learn about climate change in their science lessons, and are typically taught about the consensus understanding that fossil fuel burning leads to global heating. However, many students are still not being taught about the issue in further detail, and in some cases, lawmakers in certain states have actively discouraged climate lessons due to industry-funded lobbyists fuelling climate disinformation.
Whether future engineers, solar installers, business leaders, farmers, or policymakers, the next generation will face the impacts of climate change.
The open letter also urges for the Department of Education to be included in any cross-agency efforts to address climate change.
“By including representation of education in a cross-agency plan, the Biden-Harris Administration can help to acknowledge the critical role education can play in climate solutions and help our country build long-lasting change to advance a more sustainable society.”
A number of other former cabinet officials have co-signed the letter, including Secretary Arne Duncan, Secretary Sally Jewell, and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Climate campaigners and prominent researchers and experts have also backed the recommendations, such as youth climate activist Naina Agrawal-Hardin, Professor Megan Bang of Northwestern University, and president of the American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten.
By including representation of education in a cross-agency plan, the Biden-Harris Administration can help to acknowledge the critical role education can play in climate solutions and help our country build long-lasting change to advance a more sustainable society.
In addition to adding climate education to the curriculum, the experts believe that fundamental reforms to the education system must be made to lower its carbon footprint. Counting the 480,000 mainly diesel-fuelled school buses used across the 98,000 public schools and more than 7 billion meals served in cafeterias, drastic changes need to be made to make these operations less environmentally costly – such as introducing more plant-based meals and switching to electric vehicles.
There appears to be strong support for climate education in the U.S. from both teachers and parents. In 2019, a poll conducted by NPR found an overwhelming majority of teachers and guardians believe that learning about climate change needs to be a standard part of classroom lessons, and it has been made clear in recent years from the widespread participation of students in global climate strikes that the younger generation are deeply worried about the issue and are demanding action.
Globally, pressure also seems to be mounting on other governments around the world to prioritise climate and environmental literacy in schools, with a recent international campaign launched by Earth Day urging states billed to attend the U.N. climate conference COP26 in November this year to introduce climate education in classrooms. As of now, more than 350 organisations across 100 countries have supported the initiative.
Lead image courtesy of Getty Images.