On Tuesday, 1.30.18, leaders from both parties spoke to the American people laying out visions of a bright prosperous future. In these speeches, there was silence about how we, as a people, will protect our children and future generations from the threat of climate change.
Something is going on here (spiral of silence). I do not think we as a people have intentionally abandoned our children and all future generations. I do not think the speeches on Tuesday night represent the sum total of ideas, values, and beliefs in our socio-ecosystem. But a word cloud of the most important public discourse by the most powerful people in our socio-ecosystem on Tuesday night would suggest that in important contexts, we do not have the vocabulary or will to speak about the single greatest threat our children and grandchildren will face. (For a poetic take on this issue please read Jane Hirshfield's brilliant poems Global Warming and Let Them Not Say).
What makes this silence even more stunning is that we already possess the technological and policy tools to manage the threat to our offspring. All that is lacking is public will. Here's the tricky part, that could fill a person with despair: If we are not talking about the issue, how do we build the public will to deal with it?
Don't despair! The beauty of this spiral of silence dilemma is that all we have to do to change it, is to speak about it. We all have the power to break this dangerous spiral of silence. Anyone can speak up for climate action to protect our children and as we begin to organize our collective voices into a chorus, we will shift paradigms and generate the public will to deal with this issue as a nation and as a people. Each one of us has an incredible amount of power to break the spiral of silence about climate change by speaking truths about it in contexts where there has formerly been silence about it. We can speak about the disconnect between public discourse, between institutional priorities, between investments of resources and the common hope we all share for a bright future for our children. We each have a tremendous amount of power to speak up and break the spiral of silence.
As educators and leaders of educational institutions, we can sing the prologue in this chorus. We work in an institution grounded in science, we know that climate change is real and that it is likely the greatest threat our children will face collectively. We don't have to be silent. As educators, we stand at the interface between the generations. We can perceive in unique ways the harm climate change will inflict since we work closely with those who will bear its full burden (our children). As educators, we can speak up collectively, in a non-partisan way, to close the feedback loops and break the spiral of silence on climate change. We can help unify our great nation around a common dream---of ensuring a bright future for all of our children by addressing climate change. Our collective voices can help drive a broader paradigm shift that will protect our current and future students.
In the past two months, two school boards have passed identical Climate Change Resolutions. (Sebastopol Climate Change Resolution and Ross Valley Climate Change Resolution). Echoing the California PTA Climate Change Resolution of 2015, they state that "climate change is a children's issue". Furthermore, they call on "all leaders and all institutions" to address climate change. This is a non-partisan paradigm based on logical conclusions from objective observations of our socio-ecosystem and our best scientific thinking. Evidence suggests that not all elements of our socio-ecosystem share this paradigm (consider the silence on Tuesday night).
However, if more school boards follow SUSD and RVSD's example, their organized and collective voices on the matter could be powerful. If more leaders and institutions had the paradigm expressed in the SUSD and RVSD climate change resolutions, we, as a society would step up to manage this significant threat to the well-being of all our children and future generations.
The Schools for Climate Action campaign believes that at least 50,000 school board members probably already agree with the language and intent of Sebastopol Union/Ross Valley climate change resolutions. There are currently efforts in 12 more districts to pass similar resolutions. Please help us engage the other 13,988 school boards on this issue. Please help us empower school board members across the country to speak up to protect our current and future students. Please share the SUSD/RVSD resolutions widely.
There are 15 million high school students and 3.1 million teachers in the country working in 14,000 school districts led by 90,000 school board members. Together, we can help break the spiral of silence on climate change and build the public will to do what it takes to manage this significant threat to the well-being of our children and future generations. The Climate Change Resolution passed by SUSD and RVSD is a tool we can use to organize our collective voices in a way that will shift paradigms, build public will, and create the conditions for the implementation of science-based climate policies at all levels. Sign up for our mailing list and start emailing every school stakeholder you know an example of the SUSD and RVSD climate change resolutions with a simple question, "Look what these two school districts did...do you think we could do the same?" (Hint: the answer is "yes").
Kai Guthrie is a ninth grade student at Credo High in Rohnert Park, a Citizens' Climate Lobby volunteer, and one of the founders of Schools for Climate Action campaign.