Fairfax County School Board Passes Resolution on Climate Change Action
At its business meeting on October 11, the Fairfax County School Board passed the following resolution:
RESOLUTION OF THE FAIRFAX COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD
CALLING FOR STATE AND FEDERAL ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE
WHEREAS, an overwhelming majority of credentialed scientists, in the U.S. and abroad, support the finding that climate change is happening and that human activity is a key contributor; and
WHEREAS, if left unaddressed, the consequences of climate change will harm all Americans, most especially children and those living in poverty, and saddle future generations with the costly burden of a dangerously damaged planet; and
WHEREAS, climate instability is a global challenge requiring bold, innovative, and sustained actions at all levels of government, local, state, and federal; and
WHEREAS, the size of Fairfax County Public Schools’ physical footprint provides an unparalleled opportunity to advance the use of renewable energy sources and reduce greenhouse gas output in Northern Virginia; and
WHEREAS, pursuant to School Board Environmental Stewardship Policy 8542, FCPS leads the nation in energy efficiency, the development of green building design standards, and award-winning classroom opportunities for student advocacy and learning through the Get 2 Green program; and
WHEREAS, the Fairfax County School Board’s commitment to the safety, well-being, and future success of all children in our community also demands a high priority on reducing carbon consumption in our decisions regarding capital improvement, energy use, transportation, and other policy priorities within the Board’s control; and
WHEREAS, the Fairfax County School Board depends on committed partners in local, state, and federal government to realize our climate action goals, and recognizes the efforts and progress made to date, especially Fairfax County Government’s recently announced request for proposals for solar installations on public buildings, to include schools;
NOW, THEREFORE, be it resolved that the Fairfax County School Board: 1) calls on the members of the Virginia General Assembly and the United States Congress to act boldly on climate change and provide a regulatory framework that removes barriers to progress on climate action and encourages the rapid replacement of fossil fuels with renewable energy technology; and 2) directs the Superintendent to report timely to the Board changes in state and federal policy that support the goal of reducing carbon consumption, along with staff proposals to make best use of those opportunities in facilities and transportation planning.
“Recent reports from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are disconcerting and will have an impact on our students,” said School Board chair Karen Corbett Sanders. “The Board has been formally committed to leading the way in reducing our carbon footprint through energy conservation and incorporating renewable energy into our capital improvement plan. With this resolution, we recognize the need to work with our State and Federal policymakers to advance a similar policy framework that encourages citizens to embrace renewable energy.”
Press Release: Credo High School Student Council Passes 1st Student Council Climate Action Resolution in the NationRead Now
On Anniversary of Sonoma County Firestorm, Credo High School Student Council Passes 1st Student Council Climate Action Resolution in the Nation
On October 9th, 2018 the Credo High School Student Council in Cotati, California passed the Call to Climate Action Resolution. This marks the first student council climate action resolution as part of the Schools for Climate Action (S4CA) campaign. Credo HS junior, Avery R. led the effort to pass the Call to Climate Action Resolution. She is a Credo HS student council member and President of the California Association of Student Councils, Region 3.
S4CA is a grass-roots, non-partisan, youth-adult campaign with a mission to empower school communities to speak up for climate action in order to protect current and future students. Inspired by the work and methods of Citizens’ Climate Lobby, it was started by a team of students, parents, and teachers in Sonoma County, CA in July, 2017. Since December, 2017 25 school boards and now 1 student council have passed climate action resolutions. There are 14,000 school boards in the country and likely 20,000+ student councils. If just 10% of these pass climate action resolutions, it generate a groundswell that would help move Congress to end the 30 years of climate neglect which threatens our young people and future generations. Youth-adult teams with the S4CA campaign will hand-deliver the Credo High School Student Council resolution to every member of Congress in March of 2018. By then, scores or hundreds more student councils will have passed their own climate action resolution.
The Credo High School Student Council Call to Climate Action Resolution is the strongest of all the S4CA resolutions. In it, Credo High School student leaders declare climate change a “generational justice and human rights issue” and endorse “equitable and effective carbon-pricing policies.” In addition, they encourage “other student councils, school district boards, county boards of education, state boards of education, and the board of the California School Board Association, and the board of the National School Board Association to all pass climate action resolutions similar to ours, calling on Congress to enact swift, fair, and effective climate policies in order to protect current and future students.”
For more information about Schools for Climate Action, please contact Park Guthrie at email@example.com or (510) 691-5051 or visit our website at www.schoolsforclimateaction.weebly.com
"Polite" Silence Harms Kids by Protecting A-Scientific Worldview that Allows National Climate InactionRead Now
The San Mateo County Office of Education became the 25th school board (and 3rd county board) to pass a resolution building non-partisan political will for climate action and stating that climate change harms students. Here is the text:
San Mateo COE Resolution
Unfortunately, it did not include language calling specifically on Congress to act, but hopefully as more and more educational leaders break the silence about national climate neglect, the language can become stronger and more efficient at moving Congress. It does however include language calling for climate leadership from "elected officials".
We are grateful that the San Mateo educational leaders spoke up. We are eager for 89,900 other school board members---the only elected leaders with a singular focus on the well-being and future success of young people---to join them. No educational leader should be a silent witness to national climate neglect which so harms our students and undermines our institutional coherence.
Thank you San Mateo County Office of Education Board Members and Superintendent for speaking up.
I thought you might be interested in this last-ditch appeal I made to San Mateo County Office of Education Leaders. I requested that they add two lines to their inspirational Commitment to Environmental Sustainability Action Resolution. It's long, I know. But, it lays out some of the logic behind environmental educators and environmental literacy folks to include real-world non-partisan climate advocacy by adults and youth as part of their efforts. Finger's crossed.
Hello San Mateo County Education Leaders,
So great seeing your Commitment to Environmental Sustainability Action Resolution on Board Docs.
I'm hoping you might consider adding 1 or 2 lines:
(1) Congress should act quickly to enact common-sense climate policies to protect current and future students. (If you were just going to add one line, this would be the most important one to add).
(2) Climate change is a generational justice, human rights, and equity issue.
OR a slightly softer version that comes from the CA PTA 2015 resolution: Climate change is a children's issue.
I have a campout planned with my 6th grade class on Wednesday, otherwise I would try to attend your board meeting and make this appeal in person.
Here are 3 reasons for this request:
1. Help Move Congress to Act: If your resolution included a line calling directly on Congress to act on climate change, it would make it so much stronger as a tool to move Congress and also as an example to share with other school districts across the country. We are organizing youth-adult teams to hand deliver the school board and student council resolutions which call on Congress to act on climate in March of 2019. With just 15 teams we'll be able to hand-deliver them to all 435 Reps. and 100 Senators in a single day. This will help send a very clear signal about the educational sector's belief that Congress should act on climate change. Below is an overview sheet:
S4CA Congress, Act on Climate! Day 2019
I'm hoping school boards and student councils across San Mateo County will pass climate action resolutions and send some teams with us in March. We did a beta test in June and it was a very powerful and empowering experience for youth and adults involved.
2. Model High-Levels of Climate Literacy, "Scaffold" the Climate Problem, and Correct Possible Contradictory Subtexts:
SB 720 helps institutionalize climate literacy within the California school system. Scientists and climate policy experts suggest that we have a very short window to bend the national and world emissions curves---some say as soon as 2020 or 2025. While providing K-6 students robust climate literacy will help prepare them to address climate change, the science and policy experts seem to suggest that the timescale of this climate literacy initiative may be too slow to prevent the worst climate effects from harming our students and future generations. SB 720 is still an important and necessary piece of legislation and I am very grateful to the CA EE leaders and to Assemblymember Tony Thurmond for making it happen. However, school boards can extrapolate from the logic of SB 720 and speak up for national climate action now in a non-paritsan way. We do not have to wait for our climate literate students to do so in 5 or 10 or 15 years, after the window of safety has closed. Speaking up now would help school boards better model and therefore institutionalize climate literacy, as SB 720 encourages.
Pre-emptive scaffolding: By building non-partisan political will to start addressing climate change immediately, the educational sector can also make the climate problem (that requires climate literacy and SB 720 in the first place) a bit more manageable. Think of it as pre-emptive scaffolding. We know climate change will be a problem, that's why students need the climate literacy. We know the problem will be huge, that's why it is so important that climate literacy be institutionalized across all California schools. By the same logic, if there is anything we can do to manage the scale of the problem for which students will need the climate literacy, then we should do so. Calling directly on Congress to act is a clear, reasonable step which will help scaffold the already daunting task our students will have to manage climate change. Currently, without showing students a path to building will for national climate action, it seems likely that no amount of climate literacy will prepare and protect California school kids an overwhelming climate problem.
Model Highly Climate Literate Decisions: By modeling highly climate-literate behavior themselves school boards will better institutionalize climate education. Certainly, local, intradistrict sustainability initiatives are very, very important and display important climate literacy. But focussing strictly on those local efforts, without also making direct, non-partisan appeals for national climate action may undermine school district climate literacy efforts. Part of climate literacy is developing the ability to use climate science to influence human institutions at all scales (including Congress) to make climate-safe decisions. It would be a significant missed opportunity to model (and, therefore, teach) climate literacy if your resolution did not include a direct appeal to Congress. One most salient patterns in our nation's struggle to preserve a safe climate for young people is national inaction and the perpetuation of socio-politically transmitted, a-scientific worldviews and perceptual filters related to climate change and climate solutions. To model robust climate literacy, it is important not to sidestep or avoid responding directly to this pattern, but rather to speak in a non-partisan manner that builds will to break the dangerous pattern of inaction.
Correct Possible Contradictory Subtext: Omitting direct, clear mention of national climate action or Congress' need to act may cloud climate literacy efforts with unstated subtexts. An unstated subtext of your resolution without a clear appeal for national action might be that we can act effectively on climate as a community and a society without explicitly and directly building support for commonsense national climate action. This does not seem to be backed up by mainstream climate science and climate policy analysis. Given the timescale of action needed, it seems unlikely that we'll preserve a safe climate for our young people without moving Congress, in addition to expanding all of the very important local, county, and state efforts. This seems to be a very important message to include in all of our climate literacy efforts---that action on every scale is important and that actors at every scale can influence actions at every other scale in a positive manner. Local actors can influence local actions, but one necessary and important local action is to build will and help create socio-political norms for national scale actions.
Fortunately, sending a clear signal to Congress requires very little or no resources and it is not the least bit partisan. If it feels partisan, that's mostly an artifact of one specific political party's disassociation from mainstream climate science and not an objective interpretation of the signals or statements themselves.
3. Strengthen Coherence of the Educational Sector: There exists a "polite silence" about many aspects of climate change from across the educational sector. For example, in June, 2018, my fifteen-year-old son, Kai, and I met with a long-time staffer of the California School Boards Association (CSBA) in Sacramento. I asked him/her if the CSBA measured climate change impacts on California schools or California school kids. (As an educator from Sonoma County, it's easy for me to see the direct links between climate change, national climate inaction, and negative impacts on schools and students.) The CSBA staffer laughed ironically, clearly frustrated. He/she said something along the lines of, We don't and if we did, we would not be able to call it that. We'd have to call it 'air quality' or something like that. The words "climate change" are considered too controversial, too political around here.
I have spoken with other people connected with top-level educational organizations in California who were not the least bit surprised by this conversation. To them, the climate self-censorship and climate-semantic tiptoeing in the educational sector seems widespread. Based on conversations I have had with high level employees at the the National School Boards Association, it seems like the NSBA is also not yet ready to speak openly and clearly about climate change and the national climate inaction, even though this inaction contributes to conditions which expose hundreds of thousands or millions of American students to harm and risk of trauma each year. It seems safe to assume that if the CSBA and the NSBA cannot speak openly and directly about climate change, then nearly every other state school boards association also cannot. I have seen this same pattern of "polite climate silence" replicated over and over again across scales of the educational sector---classrooms, schools, school districts, school boards, Superintendents, in state and national education support organizations, independent schools, national independent schools associations, etc. Silence about the Congressional climate neglect which harms our students is the dominant social norm in the educational sector, among educational leaders at every scale. Fortunately, social norms can shift rapidly, especially when there is a pre-existing, shared, but private belief that may not be congruent with the social norm. This is the case with climate change and national climate inaction. Nearly all educational leaders, especially those with a background in environmental education share a pre-existing, but private belief that Congress should act on climate and that decades of national climate inaction has created an unfair burden for students. The social norm for climate silence could flip very quickly.
Likely, at its root, this climate silence in the educational sector is both highly partisan and a natural psychological defense mechanism to cushion the "traumatic" content of objective climate science. Without subtle or overt partisan influence and the secondary pattern of self-censorship and semantic tiptoeing, educators and educational institutions might have already spoken up at scale, in non-partisan ways, about the 3 decades of Congressional climate neglect which threatens our students. I suspect the majority of leaders of the CSBA and NSBA already believe climate change is a "children's issue" or a "generational justice and human rights issue". I believe that the majority of the leaders of the CSBA and the NSBA agree with the reasonable, mainstream, and non-partisan assertion that Congress should act quickly on climate to protect our students. The CSBA and the NSBA have an incredible opportunity to break silence and to move Congres to act on climate to protect students by simply making these existing shared, but private beliefs public and official in a climate action resolution.
If you added the proposed 1 or 2 lines to your resolution, your courage and your specificity would be contagious. It would contribute significantly to end the "polite climate silence" from within the educational sector which, in turn, would help Congress do the right thing by our students on climate.
As a collection of institutions grounded in mainstream science, we, the educational sector, know the harm from national climate inaction. Thanks to our focus on young people who will bear the greatest burden, we "see" and "feel" the harm more easily than any other sector. We know that national climate action can help prevent future harm to young people. Our institutional values and our frameworks of mainstream morality and justice (Ed. Code language---see below)* suggest that we, mandated reporters all of us, should not be silent if our voices will help prevent this future predicted harm to our students. You, like the board members of the Sonoma County Office of Education, the Albany Unified School District, the San Lorenzo Unified School District (and others) have tremendous power to help end three decades of climate neglect by Congress which threatens all of our students and future generations. You can do this simply by including a non-partisan appeal directly to Congress in your existing resolution. It won't cost anything.
Multiple Members of Congress and their staffers have explained to us that the voices of 90,000 school boards members from across the country can send a very powerful, effective signal to Congress. Right now, only about 140 school board members have sent clear, unambiguous signals that Congress should act on climate to protect their students. Certainly, tens of thousands more school board members already believe this and could quickly join with you. Your example would be very powerful in generating a groundswell.
Here's another document that also explains this line of thinking:
Three simple assertions
Thanks so much for reading and considering this request.
Thanks so much for all of your work creating great public schools for California kids and being such a leader in environmental education.
6th Grade Teacher
Co-founder and Lead Volunteer of the Schools for Climate Action Campaign
*California Education Code Section 233.5(a) lays the groundwork and calls upon educators to impress upon students the principles of character:
"Each teacher shall endeavor to impress upon the minds of the pupils the principles of morality, truth, justice, patriotism, and a true comprehension of the rights, duties, and dignity of American citizenship, and the meaning of equality and human dignity, including the promotion of harmonious relations, kindness toward domestic pets and the humane treatment of living creatures, to teach them to avoid idleness, profanity, and falsehood, and to instruct them in manners and morals and the principles of a free government..."
Good Morning Climate Activists!
Thanks so much for stopping by our table at the Rise March in SF yesterday. What a wonderful event!
The educational sector can and should speak with one non-partisan voice clarifying the moral imperative for Congress to act on climate change to protect current and future students. National inaction on climate constitutes generational neglect; silence about this by the educational sector undermines our school institutional integrity, our mission, and our core values. No educator, educational leader, or school board has to be a silent witness to generational climate injustice. By speaking up together, the educational sector can help protect students from our current national policy of climate neglect.
Here are some quick, easy ways you can help:
Less than 5 minutes
Sign and share our Change.org petition to the CA State Board of Education, the California School Boards Association, and the National School Boards Association.
2. Support S4CA on Social Media:
Less than 5 minutes, but on-going as well
S4CA Facebook Page
S4CA Google Group
3. Empower your local and county school boards to pass climate action resolutions:
First step takes about 5 minutes; follow-up varies
At least 5 climate action resolutions have been passed simply as a result of one or two emails from a stakeholder. Here is a template email you can send your local and county Superintendents and school boards. It's also pasted below. If your school board does not respond to an email, don't worry. There are additional simple, easy steps you can take to move them to action. Join our next monthly meeting or email us with questions or if you want help planning a local campaign. Please try to include "communication clauses" embedded in your resolutions so that your school boards transmit official copies back to Schools for Climate Action as well as to neighboring school districts and county and state school boards as well. Here is a copy of the model school board resolution.
4. Additional Actions:
If your local and county school districts have already passed climate action resolutions, you can still encourage your local student councils, PTAs, and educator's unions to pass similar resolutions. We are also organizing youth-adult teams from districts which have passed resolutions to hand-deliver all passed resolutions to all members of Congress in March. Please start talking up this idea and stay in contact. We're hoping each district will send 2 students and 1 adult. We plan to share more details in October.
5. Join the S4CA Outreach Team:
1 to 5 hours per month
We need help getting the word out to school networks across the country. There are 14,000 school boards in the country and so far most are silent witnesses to our national climate neglect which harms students. Most have not spoken up not because they are untroubled by climate injustice. Rather, most school boards simply do not realize they have a non-partisan tool to help move Congress to act or that there is a precedent of school boards speaking up for climate justice. Most school boards have never had a constituent ask them to speak openly about climate change. Many or most school boards have never used the words climate change in official documents or even discussed it in a meeting. We are looking for people to volunteer one to five hours a month doing outreach to school stakeholders across the country to share our non-partisan tools to help educators and school leaders speak up for climate justice. Please complete this S4CA Outreach Volunteer Intake Form if you are interested in this commitment. We need volunteers who can commit to using respectful and non-partisan language and tone.
I want to end on a quick anecdote. Just yesterday, I learned from a marcher/teacher who stopped by our table about the 24th school board to pass a climate action resolution---Pajaro Valley Unified School District in Santa Cruz County, CA. Thank you, PVUSD Superintendent, board members, and youth advocates! This was the first any of the initial Schools for Climate Action campaign organizers learned of the Pajaro Valley USD local campaign.
The Schools for Climate Action campaign has the potential to go viral, as it becomes more and more untenable for educational leaders to remain silent about our national policy of generational climate neglect. Educational leaders are hungry for a non-partisan tool to speak up for young people. We have the potential to quickly generate a massive and effective signal that Congress (as well as all institutions and elected leaders) must act. Please join us in spreading the word about the 24 school board precedents. As more school boards join, the threshold for passing a resolution gets lower and lower and the language in the resolutions can get stronger and stronger. Speaking up for climate action could become the norm among the 14,000 school districts in the nation.
We will be sharing resolutions directly with Congress in March. Imagine the impact we could have if hundreds or thousands of school board, student council, PTA, and educators' union have passed climate action resolutions by then. We could help Congress understand that to be for American kids, they must act on climate. If they do not act on climate, they are harming American kids and future generations. There is a wall of silence which currently insulates many members of Congress from this simple and science-based paradigm. Many members of Congress have an older, a-scientific paradigm which allows them to think of themselves as acting in the best interest of kids while at the same time being disengaged from climate. We have the power to break the silence and help Members of Congress adopt to more accurate paradigms which are safer for young people and future generations.
Thanks for all you do! Also, big thanks to the S4CA supporters who marched or tabled with us yesterday---Kaya, Tanya, Nevin, Kristan, Kai, Lola, and June!
Finally, a big thanks to the People's Climate Movement and 350.org which organized that amazing event. Yay!
6th grade teacher
Co-founder and Lead Volunteer of Schools for Climate Action
Petition to Leaders of 3 of the Largest Educational Orgs in Nation
Please consider signing and sharing the Schools for Climate Action petition to leaders at the helms 3 of the largest educational organizations in the US---the CA State Board of Education, the California School Boards Association, and the National School Boards Association. We are asking them to lead their boards in passing a climate action resolution similar to the strongest ones passed by 23 school boards in CA, CO, and NY.
S4CA Petition to Educational Leaders
A climate action resolution from any of these organizations will likely inspire follow-on resolutions from hundreds or thousands of the 14,000 school boards across the nation.
School board members are the ONLY elected officials with a singular focus on children. They do have standing to speak in their official capacity about the moral imperative for Congress to act on climate change and climate restoration. School board climate action resolutions can play an important role in breaking the logjam on rational climate action in DC.
Teachers and other school stakeholders from 14 different states joined a Schools for Climate Action webinar on 8.15.18. Here is a link to the webinar recording. Below is the slideshow we used. Big thanks to teachers Colin Hubbard (Telluride, Colorado) and Chris Knight (Albany, California) for presenting.
More than Just Words on Paper
Climate Action Resolutions Build Resilience in Students, Teachers, and Institutions by Creating Context of Hope, Action, and Optimism
During the Garrison Union Free School debate about their climate action resolution, some school board members expressed reservations. They did not understand why it is so important for school board members to break silence about generational climate justice. This is a really common and reasonable position and displays a healthy skepticism. We should all be grateful that our de-centralized democratic institutions are forums for healthy and respectful debate---places where people with different values and opinions come together and find common ground.
I think there are many important benefits of even purely "soft" resolutions which articulate the political will for national climate action, but may not take tangible local action that requires money or resources from a school district. The most important benefit is simply that several members of Congress have suggested a groundswell of these resolutions it will be a very useful tool to get Congress to act. And getting Congress to act boldly and quickly on climate is one of the most important things we can do to protect our students. All of the school-based sustainability and curriculum efforts are important, but their potential GhG reductions and the speed with which they can alter our dangerously out-of-whack socio-ecosystem are dwarfed by the power of Congress to help reset the system.
But here's another, less obvious, way that school climate action resolutions are important. These resolutions may mitigate climate harm on a much smaller, but important scale---the psychology and neural pathways of our students. I am pretty sure that school climate action resolutions and especially widespread uptake and spread of climate action resolutions by school boards, student councils, PTAs, and educators' union can protect young people from some of the negative psychological impacts of climate change. Multiple studies suggest disasters, such as the climate-related fires touching the lives of so many young people in the West are harmful to their psychological health and well-being. Climate action resolutions may dramatically shift the psychological context in which people, including young people and educators, process the same difficult truths and hardships related to our new climate realities. As such, climate action resolutions are a free, easy way to improve individual and collective psychological resilience in the face of increased incidents of extreme “natural” events.
Here in Sonoma County, we've had smoke from the Mendocino Fires off-and-on for more than a week. Fortunately, for us, it's mostly high haze and hasn't hurt air quality too much yet. The haze makes for bizarrely beautiful sunrises and sunsets that you almost feel guilty enjoying. The haze also reminds us to be grateful for the first responders and to keep our neighbors to the north in our thoughts and prayers.
But there is a sinister, unsettling side to this smoky haze, less obvious than the tragedy of thousands of Californians directly traumatized by this current firestorm. The haze is also a constant, creeping reminder that the devastation Sonoma county experienced just 10 months ago is not some freak occurrence. Devastating firestorms are part of a new norm. A summer and fall completely free from fire haze and fire anxiety or fire trauma may now become the new freak occurrence. For the rest of our lives. And it’s likely getting worse. And it feels like it’s definitely going to get worse when leaders continue to delay national climate discussion and action, to reverse policies to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and to actively undermine international action on climate.
Next week, I'll welcome my new 6th grade class. Later this year, I'll be teaching them the basic science of climate change. Imagine the dissonant climate-related data points these 6th graders will have to struggle to integrate. Not only will they look at raw data---twin hockey stick graphs of rising CO2 levels and temperatures with a clear and disconcerting trend. But they will also bring with them a first hand experience with climate-related fire---an effect long predicted by climate scientists using the same raw data on the hockey stick graphs.
Ten months ago, some of these students were evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night to escape the Tubb’s fire. Although none of our students lost their homes, nearly all of them know at least one family who did---it’s almost impossible not to in Sonoma county. These personal experience data points are real and visceral, etched into student neural pathways through multiple senses---smell, feel, taste, sight. Added to these primary sense data points is the generalized community anxiety or trauma related to these fires. Kids absorb this kind of stuff, no matter how calm and matter of fact the adults holding them are. Students will need to integrate all these sensory and experiential data points with the scientific information we study in class.
But in addition, most of the students will have socio-cultural-political data points associated with climate change. They will have heard about national leaders in both the legislative and executive branches making (or tweeting) a-scientific statements related to climate and to the fires. They will have heard about national decisions to actively reverse policies to counteract climate change. At some point they will likely learn about the 50+ years scientists have been trying to convince broader society to take action. Any honest reflection on the American experience related to climate knowledge, climate discussion, and climate debate will have to conclude that scientists for at least 30+ years have been making a reasoned, rational case for climate action. They have been citing the exact kinds of climate-related conditions we are currently experiencing as reason for action.
These socio-cultural-political data points may be impossible to integrate coherently with the scientific data with with the first hand experience and sense-memories related with high temperatures, smoke, fear, anxiety, loss, and dread related to climate change.
It just won’t make sense to them. How could adults with access to this same information refuse for so long to act? If it’s really as bad as the science and fires seem to suggest, why aren’t more adults doing more, more of the time?
They may not articulate it exactly like this, but their beautiful, busy, curious minds are always struggling to piece things together and make sense of them. How does my experience with direct threat from fire mesh with the rollback of vehicle emissions standards? This sense-making is part of our shared human drive. So they’ll ask me, a trusted adult, to help them make sense of it all. This fall, they’ll ask me to help them make sense of the vehicle emissions standards rollback, just like they did about the Paris withdrawal or the infamous "Chinese hoax" statement in the years before. If climate change is really so bad and our country is supposed to be so great, why aren’t we ____________? There are so many ways to fill in the blank. Doing more. Taking the lead. Cleaning up our messes. Working together to solve problems. Speaking up for justice. Protecting our children.
We are playing with fire, adults. Sometimes when the dissonance is too great, when there is no possible way for a young person to integrate these disparate and contradictory data points (personal experience, scientific data, socio-cultural-political lenses) into some sort of coherent narrative, kids, just like all people throw up their hands, and give up. What the @#x??!! So starts a possible slide into disengagement, distrust, despair, and cynicism. It’s a terrible thing to do to a young spirit. It’s a spiritually toxic broth we’re serving up, my generation.
But, it’s especially toxic when we are silent. It impoverishes not only the kids it’s being served to, but also the adults (teachers) and the institutions (schools) who are silent witnesses.
It seems justice issues are always worse when nobody talks about them, when we all witness it silently. But therein lies a seed of tremendous hope and resilience. Because, conversely, some of the power to inflict psychological harm dissipates when justice issues are named and accurately described. New paradigms can be created so individuals and institutions can see and understand it clearly, so they can react to it in a way that aligns with all of their other values. To be for kids and for our country, you've got to be speaking up and acting for the climate. From these new paradigms, flow all kinds of new possibilities.
Climate action resolutions dispel some of the psychological harm from the climate mess we’re serving up our young people. It’s a free, fast, and relatively easy way to build resiliency by creating ripples of optimism and action.
This year, when we talk about climate change in my 6th grade class, my students will have some extra data points that may help them string together a coherent AND optimistic narrative connecting all the climate data points. You see, this year, not only has their school board passed one of the strongest climate action resolutions by any school board in the nation, but so did their county office of education board along with 6 other Sonoma county school boards. And not only that, but thanks to the courageous example these Sonoma county school leaders have set, there are school boards in Colorado and now New York---clear across the country---who have joined in. There’s reason to hope that soon, school boards in every community across the country will break the silence on climate change and speak with a clear, resounding voice to protect young people and future generations.
There will be more devastating climate-related firestorms in California and climate-worsened hurricanes in the South and East and sunny day flooding in coastal communities no matter what we say or do at this point. Even if Congress took bold effective action tomorrow, there would be a significant lag-time before we started bringing our climate back into balance.
But imagine how different the context would be if 10,000 school boards, student councils, PTAs, and educator’s unions responded in unison to this year’s climate-related disasters and decades of national climate silence and climate inaction by standing up and speaking up for our kids. Imagine how differently the same hockey stick graphs, the same flippant tweets, the same suffocating and eye-watering smoke would land for our kids. It’d still be bad, but there would be rational hope and it would be clear that there is a huge village of caring elders and energetic young leaders closing ranks around them, holding them, helping them create the world where they can assimilate all the first hand and scientific information related to climate, while at the same time preserving their trust in their elders and their country. They won’t have to make a terrible Solomon’s choice between belief in science and their first hand experience and a trust in elders and country. They’ll be able to integrate the two into a coherent narrative because the elders most directly linked to them---educators, educational leaders, and parents---spoke up together in a non-partisan way to remind the country and all elected leaders that we are better than to turn our backs on our young people in favor of blind partisan loyalty.
We, educators, can create this more optimistic lens for our children to process the same difficult climate reality by simply passing our own climate action resolutions and then reaching out throughout the schools network and asking our peers and our leaders to do the same.
So, thank Garrison Union Free School trustees. Not only has your resolution built political will that will help move Congress to act, but you have also created an important ripple of optimism that will touch young people across the country. A groundswell of school board resolutions will not only help move Congress to act, but it will also help young people, educators, and school communities preserve a context of hope and optimism as we all struggle to process our new and difficult climate realities.
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.