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.
On April 19th, Harmony Union School Board members Mariah Lander, Steve Bair, and Henry Goff unanimously passed Resolution #2017/18-5 to Support Climate Change Action. This resolution:
A big thanks to Tanya Turneaure, Allison Gravis, and Kaelyn Ramdsen who also contributed to this effort.
The logjam on national climate action currently threatens all of our young people (and future generations). Thanks to our constitutional rights and our decentralized democratic traditions (such as local school district governance) all Americans, young and old, who care about the well-being of our country, our children, and future generations can speak directly to elected leaders to advocate for commonsense climate policies. No one has to be silent about the enormous and unnecessary burden we, as a nation, are currently placing on our young people due to our lack of national climate policy.
Harmony Union School District is the 14th school district since December, 2017 to pass a climate action resolution in order to protect students. We believe thousands of other school boards across the country agree with the content of this resolution. Please help spread the word about this campaign so that the chorus of voices from the educational sector can help break the logjam on commonsense climate action in Washington, DC.
Thank you HUSD Board and Superintendent/Principal for all that you do to create bright futures for young people!
On Thursday, 4.12.18 the school boards of Kenwood School District (Sonoma County) and Twin Hills School Districts (Sebastopol, Sonoma County) both articulated the political will for common sense climate policies in order to protect current and future students.
Here's the Kenwood School District resolution:
I will post the Twin Hills one soon.
Thank you to the Kenwood school board members:
Thank you to the Twin Hills school board members:
Apparently, a troop of Girl Scouts showed up to the Twin Hills board meeting to advocate for the resolution. Go Girl Scouts! Way to be assertive and to advocate for your generation. Someday, you'll be able to proudly tell your grandkids about the time in elementary school when you were on the leading edge of the wave of youth climate activism that swept the nation and set us on a course towards a healthier, more prosperous, and more sustainable future. Let's all follow their lead!
High school Juniors Kelley T. and Lucy L. led the effort empowering Novato Unified School District Board Members to speak up for climate action to protect current and future students. Novato USD Board Members responded enthusiastically and unanimously---and lightening fast! This process took exactly 6.5 weeks from when Lucy was first introduced to Schools for Climate Action to when her school board passed a climate action resolution. Young people and (adults who care about kids), thanks to our great local democratic institutions and traditions, you have incredible power to create a groundswell of political leverage from grasstops leaders in your own community. Many school board members have a cry of grief stuck in their throats about the way our national government has abandoned young people on this issue. They are hungry for a non-partisan tool to speak up. Very few people in all of human history have had such awesome power to influence the course of human history as all Americans, but especially young Americans do at this critical juncture. Young people can move recalcitrant politicians in ways that elders working alone cannot. (I wish it were otherwise because I know this climate change mess is NOT your responsibility.) Together, we can create a groundswell that could break the logjam on common sense climate policy in DC. Please spread this example far and wide. 3 months from now, there could be hundreds of these resolutions. Please spread the word.
Thank you Lucy and Kelley and the Novato Unified School District Board and Superintendent!
SCA Lead Volunteer and 6th grade teacher
Thank you parent advocate Elizabeth Caballero, retired staff advocate Molly Whitely, Superintendent Scott Turnbull, and Trustees Sandra Wallace, Ted Donnelly, Sira Taylor, Amanda Jackson Miller, and Phil Rodriguez for speaking up for climate action!
Soquel Elementary Union School District in Santa Cruz County has become the 10th school board since December, 2017 to pass a resolution calling climate change a children's or human rights issue and demonstrating the political will for common-sense national climate policy. These adults have acted to protect their students and future generations.
As the only elected leaders with a singular focus on the well-being and future success of children, we believe all 90,000 school board members in the country have standing to speak up for climate action, just like Soquel UESD have done.
The actions, distractions, and silence of a minority of national politicians are currently stifling the development common-sense national climate policies. This endangers our children and future generations. We believe that at least some of the 180-or-so Members of Congress currently responsible for preventing or delaying meaningful national action on climate change may hear an organized and respectful outcry from thousands of members of school boards, student councils, PTA's, and teacher's unions. Thank you, Soquel UESD for raising your voices to protect children and future generations.
Thank you, Telluride School Board and Mr. Hubbard for speaking up for climate action! 1st Out-of-State. The groundswell is coming. . .Read Now
Telluride, Colorado---Commitment to Climate Change Action Resolution
More later, but for now let me just say that at some point we should expect a groundswell. Educators across Sonoma County, and now the country, know that we cannot remain silent while our lack of common-sense national climate policies threatens the well-being and future success of generations of children.
Educators can speak up with an organized, non-partisan, respectful, and forceful voice to help break the logjam in DC. We do not expect anyone to abandon liberal or conservative values or philosophies. We do expect our leaders to be guided by the same foundations upon which school institutions are built: science, critical thought, belief in objective truth, a coherent moral system, and progress towards justice. We have enough imagination, pride, dignity, and patriotism to see the benefits of American leadership on the issue of climate change.
Students, parents, and educators, we can use resolutions---student council, school board, PTA, and teacher's union---to clearly assert our expectation that all leaders at every level should embrace common-sense American values and attitudes towards climate change.
It is totally appropriate for there to be robust debates about the best policies and solutions to climate change. It is totally inappropriate and inexcusable that such debates are not taking place in our most important public forum---the halls of Congress.
Educators, we should hold our leaders, at every level, to the same high standards we hold our students and ourselves. As educators, we believe in people's ability to learn and grow if they are held to high expectations and given honest feedback. We are in the business of helping people become their better selves.
We can apply this principle to leaders at every level. A small minority of leaders is currently leading our nation down a path that endangers our students and future generations. Here in Sonoma county, we have already seen firsthand the connection between climate disengaged leaders and harm to our children. Our kids have already suffered and the longer we abide climate disengaged leaders at any level, the greater and the more pervasive the harm will grow. Fortunately, by speaking up and sending clear, unambiguous social and political signals, we can help leaders evolve. We can speak up---through resolutions---to provide this feedback for the good of the country, the climate, our leaders, and our children.
On Wednesday, 3.14.18 Credo High School Governing Board passed the groundbreaking "Commitment to Climate Change Action Resolution"
This may be the strongest climate change action resolution by any school board in all of human history!
5 important reasons:
#1. This is the first time (to my knowledge) that any school board has described climate change as an "generational justice and human rights issue". Previous resolutions have hinted at that ("children's issue" and "human issue") but the CREDO resolution is the first to state it outright. As more schools pass these resolutions, not only is the threshold for future schools lower, but the language can grow bolder.
We are introducing climate common sense into the commons; of course, climate change is an generational justice and human rights issue. Embracing this self-evident perspective and speaking freely about it in places of power and public discourse will allow us as a society to see it and then reflect on it. We can then decide that we don't want to be the people/nation to transfer this enormous burden to our own children and grandchildren. I think most Americans have not yet considered the difficult the generational justice implications of climate change because institutional and social silence and individual perceptual filters prevent them from seeing it. (See Jane Hirshfield's poem Global Warming for a poetic analogy of this---we are the natives unable to even see the "global warming moral crisis ship".) However, when schools like CREDO redraw the boundaries of mainstream public discourse, so that we can speak clearly and openly about the deep moral and spiritual crisis of our current national climate stance, they help shift paradigms in a way that lays the groundwork for rational climate policies.
Paradigms, like memes, are mostly a social phenomena. Resolutions and statements at school board meetings actually do help change change paradigms. Most Americans would happily and enthusiastically choose climate action rather than turning their backs on future generations. They just haven't yet been able to "see" this choice and their role in it. Credo has highlighted this for us. Thank you CREDO board for having the heart to speak clearly, compassionately, and respectfully in a politically powerful and non-partisan way about this very important topic. You remind us that we do not have to be the people to place this burden on our future generations.
#2. This is the first school board resolution passed after a student council formally requested that their board pass a resolution. The youth led on this one, not just in speaking but in writing. Their initial resolution can move up the scales.
#3.This is the first resolution to "Resolve" that they "call on Congress to take swift and effective action". Other resolutions hint at it (all elected leaders should act) but this is more direct and powerful. Up until now, Congress has failed us all, but especially our children on this issue. CREDO board is providing constructive coaching, being assertive about what they specifically want Congress to do.
#4. Carbon pricing mention.
#5. Follow-up committee to recommend on-going action.
Thanks again Credo!
Who is next?
CREDO High School Governing Board Public Charter School Board (March, 2018) Rohnert Park, CA
This past week (3.4 to 3.10.18) has been an awesome week for us.
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.