January/February 2017 – Vol. 29 No. 4

Climate Change and the Classroom (with a focus on High School)

Posted: Monday, February 8th, 2016

by Pamela J. Gordon

More than any other class I took at Lynbrook High School (1973-77, in San Jose), the class on environmental conservation most informed my career as an environmental consultant and Climate Reality Leader.

So strong was our teacher Hal Skillman’s commitment to his students’ efficacy in protecting the environment, that half-way into his semester-long class, he suddenly announced to his idealistic students, “Tomorrow we’ll start a unit on economics.” “Economics?” my classmates and I wondered. “What does economics have to do with protecting the planet?” Without squelching my passion for protecting and improving the natural environment, Mr. Skillman demonstrated that making substantive and lasting environmental improvements necessitated the bridging of science and Capitalism.

Gratefully, for the past several decades I’ve coached Technology Industry executives in reducing the environmental damage of products and processes, and instead increasing their companies’ profitability through eco-designed products and resource-efficient supply chains and operations. My book “Lean and Green: Profit for Your Workplace and the Environmentwas published in 2001 (by Oakland-based Berrett-Koehler Publishers) and today I am a certified Leader in the Climate Reality Project (chaired by Former VP Al Gore) speaking to primarily corporate audiences.

Climate Science Needed Now More than Ever

Given that 14 of the 15 warmest-temperature years on record have been in the 21st Century, and that in each time zone around the planet rising seas and extreme weather has been documented (source: Climate Reality Project), preparing students to be part of the solution is more important than ever.

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Teaching how our planet is changing and ways to mitigate harm to people, economies, and nature (through affordable wind and solar energy, the Circular Economy, and more) is imperative at elementary, middle school, and high school levels. But what are students prepared to learn at each level, and how?

My son’s Oakland elementary school curriculum (2009-14) helped students make connections between societal changes and environmental impacts. He and his classmates tended on-campus organic gardens while learning the benefits of growing food without pesticides or herbicides, weeded invasive plant species in a neighborhood forest to illustrate the advantages of indigenous plants, and studied flora and fauna in nearby mountain and city lakes as they learned about keeping pollutants from soil and waterways. Science classes combined with these out-of-the-classroom experiences help to shape young students’ environmental awareness and values.

When my husband Joseph Solove teaches science at Oakland middle schools, his students make connections between the use of fossil fuels and the greenhouse effect leading to global warming and climate change. Notwithstanding the wide range of student maturity in middle school, still the students understand that climate change affects their families’ lives.

“Teaching about climate change is even more critical in high school,” says Solove, “when students can choose fields of study, select college majors, and prepare for careers.”

Suggestions for Preparing High School Students for Careers in Climate Health

From Larry Friedrich’s first experience in high school science, then as a CalTech student, Intel chemical engineer, and finally high school science teacher and tutor, Larry Friedrich (Mountain View) has found that those students who pursue careers in science, engineering, and medicine are inspired by high school teachers who make learning experiential and who hold students responsible for their own learning. “Present the big picture,” Friedrich recommends, “and link it with other things students have learned. Excite the students by making science sensible and come alive; science isn’t magic when you understand it.”

Guest lectures by physicists, biologists, and climatologists can spark students’ enthusiasm about working in environmental fields. Seana K. Walsh, Conservation Biologist at the National Tropical Botanical Garden, recommends that teachers make science relevant to students’ lives now and in the foreseeable future. “Hands-on stuff is key of course; it’s exciting and fascinating for students to see what they normally cannot see, such as by extracting DNA and using a compound microscope to look at cells with all the structures therein.”

Walsh continues, “I think students also need to get outside more, into the forest and into the water, to learn first hand from experts, who can answer most, if not all the questions they might have. Teachers and guest lecturers can exude their passion for their specialties. It’s also great to get high school students out to work with [conservation, restoration, and animal-recovery] organizations and projects.”

I’ll add that when high-school teachers place climate change science in the context of economics and government policy, students can imagine how their choices in their work-lives and civic involvement can either exacerbate or mitigate climate change. Plus, high school students can engage their parents and grandparents in discussions about what they’re learning about climate change, encouraging the adults in their lives to proactively make climate-health decisions in their workplaces.

Keeping Climate-Change Science…Science

Friedrich reports hearing that some science teachers get pushback from students whose parents point to scientists who dispute climate change.* “Not 100% of scientists get behind String Theory either” says Friedrich, “but this new physics-based subject is still taught. It’s important that students learn about climate change — what we know about it and what we can do to mitigate it. And it’s critically important in high school.”

Postscript

Sadly, as my environmental-conservation teacher drove home to Santa Cruz from our high school graduation, he died in a traffic accident. I hope to do tribute to Mr. Skillman through my influence on product designers and corporate executives to reduce climate change and other environmental degradation in ways that make good economic sense.

May each teacher reading this article and his/her students make substantive and urgent strides to reducing climate change.

*“Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals1 show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are very likely due to human activities.” –NASA website http://climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/

Pamela Gordon is a Senior Consultant for Antea® Group, and can be reached at PGordon@TechForecasters.com

Written by Guest Contributor

From time to time CSTA receives contributions from guest contributors. The opinions and views expressed by these contributors are not necessarily those of CSTA. By publishing these articles CSTA does not make any endorsements or statements of support of the author or their contribution, either explicit or implicit. All links to outside sources are subject to CSTA’s Disclaimer Policy: http://www.classroomscience.org/disclaimer.

One Response

  1. On the 100th anniversary of the birth of Vladamir Lenin, (April, 1970,) we were informed that it was the consensus of the scientists worldwide , that we needed to immediately halt the use of ALL internal combustion engines. Not stopping their use in the early 1970 would cause a second Ice Age by the year 2000. They also discussed the need to spread coal dust across Greenland, Alaska, as well as Antartica, in order to keep the Sun’s heat from escaping the atmosphere. This predicted New Uce Age would put all of North America under a sheet of ice twenty feet, (or more,) thick across the entire North American continent. Since there was NO NEW ICE AGE in 2000, what happened? Why are the failed predictions important to teach? Al Gore’s POINT IF NO RETURN date has come and gone. That was the date that he gave that if his AGW predictions and warnings were not followed, that IT WOULD NOT MATTER WHAT WAS DONE AFTER THST, it would be a done deal! Well, last month, we passed that date, so there is no use in trying to stop Anthropogenic Global Warming, since nothing can stop it now! For 19 years or more, I’ve heard warnings that the earth is getting warmer. Yet, the Earth has not followed the Global Warming computer Models! Nor has the Earth followed the Climate Change Models, either.

    Why is it that the failures of the computer model predictions, indicate an error in the models ignored by those pushing the idea? Why are the facts that indicate no evidence of AGW IGNORED, discounted and forgotten? Isn’t is about time to be more like Galileo than by those who demanded that had held to this naive notion that all of Solar system circled the Earth?

    Science is not determined by consensus, but by facts. Political Correctness has no use in the arena of true science

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