Park Guthrie is a teacher in Northern California and the founder of Schools for Climate Action, a grassroots group whose mission is to encourage schools to advocate for climate justice. The impact of climate change can no longer be ignored in our classrooms. Park has written a compelling blog post that inspires all of us to take action in support of climate justice. It is our duty, as we care for our students and families, we must also care for our planet.
BREAK THE SILENCE. EMPOWER YOUR SCHOOL TO SPEAK UP FOR CLIMATE ACTION.
Climate Anxiety in the Classroom
One sunny afternoon in May the faint smell of smoke brought all activity in my 6th grade class to a halt. Several students jumped out of their seats and moved to the windows scanning the horizon for signs of fire. Others laughed nervously.
“I think I’m having PTSD,” announced Simon, a bright, thoughtful student. He likely was. Just 18 months earlier Simon and his family had been woken up in the middle of the night as a wall of flames advanced on their neighborhood. He and his family escaped safely, but for the next three days, they waited anxiously to learn the fate of their home. Although his house was spared, thousands of nearby homes burned. More than 1200 students in Sonoma county lost their homes in the climate-related Tubb’s fire.
In the past 18 months, Simon, like all of my students at our small K-8 school in rural Sonoma County, has experienced the effects of 4 climate-related disasters. In addition to the devastation my students witnessed during the Tubb’s Fire, they also suffered extremely hazardous air quality from the Mendocino (July/August of 2018) and Paradise firestorms (November of 2018). And a winter storm in February of 2019, supercharged with moisture and energy as a result of increased temperatures, brought torrential rains and severe flooding that closed school and damaged hundreds of homes, including the homes of students in our class. School has been cancelled three times for a total of 10 days due to climate-related disasters in the past two years alone. Each new climate disaster triggers memories and anxieties from previous ones, as did the smell of smoke wafting in through my classroom windows last May.
Fortunately, in May the smell of smoke was from the school garden’s pizza oven and not a wildfire. In the short-term, my students were safe and secure. Unfortunately, in the long-term, my students, like all American young people, will bear a significant lifetime climate burden. Given our current rate of emissions and the link between increased heat and fires, scientists predict that the severity of fires in California will only increase. If we don’t address our emissions problem, millions of our students will be exposed to potentially traumatic disasters made more frequent or more severe by unmitigated climate change.
Fortunately, it is not too late to quickly limit our fossil fuel emissions thereby protecting young people and future generations from the worst-case climate scenarios. We still have a small window of action. Schools, municipalities, companies, and states across the country are taking climate action, improving sustainability and cutting emissions. In addition, the non-partisan Schools for Climate Action campaign is helping school districts respond to the climate crisis by building non-partisan will for national climate action. Read on to learn why building will for national climate action is so important.
Congress’ Legacy of Climate Neglect
Unfortunately Congress, the organization with the power to take the biggest steps towards a carbon-neutral and climate-healthy future, has yet to treat climate change as the crisis science shows that it is.
For more than three decades Congress has had a clear, scientific explanation of the causes of climate change and the consequences of inaction. For more than three decades, Congress has had a wide range of common sense climate policy solutions to avert the dire climate situation we now face. For more than three decades, Congress has simply chosen not to act. Congressional inaction has contributed significantly to conditions which now expose millions of American children, including my students, to unhealthy, dangerous, and potentially traumatic conditions each year. With its legacy of climate inaction, Congress has committed an act of wholesale child neglect. A toxic peer-culture entrenched within a powerful subset of Congress has promoted unscientific climate views and made it socially acceptable and psychologically comfortable for Senators and Representatives to perpetrate this climate neglect on all of our students and future generations.
Caption: Students, teachers, and parents with the Schools for Climate Action Campaign get ready to deliver climate action resolutions from scores of school boards, student councils, PTAs, and other education sector organizations to all 535 Congressional Offices (March, 2019)
Educators and Medical Professionals Can Interrupt Dynamic of Climate Neglect with Clear Signals to Congress
Fortunately, as educators and as mandated reporters, we have tremendous power to speak up to help interrupt the dynamic of climate neglect which threatens our students. Since we stand, in our official capacity, at the interface between the generations, we have tremendous power and a responsibility to provide an “intervention” to Congress, so that they receive accurate feedback about the ways that their climate neglect harms young people and future generations. The Schools for Climate Action campaign was launched in 2017 to provide schools a tool to speak up for climate justice in a non-partisan, but powerful way. School nurses, as both educators and medical professionals, are uniquely poised to energize this campaign and send a powerful signal that Congress must act on climate to protect our students. So far, nearly 100 education sector organizations in 12 states have passed climate action resolutions. And in June, more than 70 state and national medical organizations issued a call-to-climate-action detailing the negative equity and health impacts of our national climate neglect.
Here are four fast, concrete steps you can take to amplify the call for national climate action:
- Follow and retweet the S4CA Twitter account
- Email your local, county, and state boards of education asking them to join the 50+ school boards in 8 states that have already passed climate action resolutions
- Edit this same email and send it to your regional, state, and national school nurse’s associations asking them to pass climate action resolutions
- Share this Student Council Resolution Toolkit with teachers and students at your school
You can also learn more about the Schools for Climate Action campaign at an upcoming webinar sponsored by the Climate Reality Project on August 18th at 9:00 am PT: Registration Link.
Alice Deal Middle School students and their teachers getting ready to deliver non-partisan climate action resolutions to Congressional Offices in March. Our next round of resolution deliveries will be in September, 2019.
Thanks for reading and for all your work for schools and kids.
For more information about the Schools for Climate Action campaign, please contact:
Park Guthrie, S4CA Co-Founder and 6th Grade Teacher firstname.lastname@example.org . Park has been a public school teacher in Northern California for twenty years. He has also worked as a landscaper, an Outward Bound instructor, and the director of an urban agriculture/school garden non-profit. He currently teaches 6th grade at a Salmon Creek Charter School and lives in Sebastopol, CA. He and his wife, Kristan, have three kids Kai (16), Lola (15) and June (12). He co-founded Schools for Climate Action (S4CA) with a group of students, parents, and teachers in July of 2017. In the past 18 months, 97 education sector organizations have broken silence about climate justice with non-partisan S4CA climate action resolutions.
Jonah Gottlieb, S4CA Director and 12th Grade Student email@example.com
Kimberly Gutzler, National Childrens’ Campaign Founder and S4CA Advisory Board Member Kimberly@nationalchildrenscampaign.org
Twitter Handle: @school4climate
Comment: We are a non-partisan, youth-adult, grassroots campaign to empower schools to speak up for climate action. We’ve helped 67 education sector organizations pass climate action resolutions to help move Congress to act on climate to protect students. The Climate Action Club at the middle school where I teach engaged the California Association of School Psychologists which became the first state education sector organization to pass a climate action resolution. We’ll be engaging the California and National Associations of School Nurses next. We’d love any insights or support you could give. Thanks for your advocacy for youth!
To learn more about why it is so important for educators and school nurses to speak up for climate justice, read Part II of this series.