Get Serious About Sustainability

The Industrial Revolution marked the birth of a new era in human history, an economic and social transformation driven by technology, manufacturing, and transportation. It sparked an age of innovation and invention and challenged the limits of human imagination. But at the same time, our young industrial society made reckless, self-serving choices without regard to the consequences to the environment.

And now, we have a mess on our hands.

Handing over CC!On February 2, 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body of hundreds of scientists from around the world, announced that climate change is indisputable and poses a great threat to life on earth.

Breaking the Ice on Global Warming

Almost exactly one year after global warming became a universally accepted issue, a chunk of ice seven times the size of Manhattan dislodged from an Antarctic shelf and disintegrated into the ocean.

Because global warming and cooling are linked to industrial economics, the issue is often made into a political tug-of-war that causes more contention than consensus.  “We’re in a giant car heading toward a brick wall and everyone’s arguing over where they’re going to sit,” muses Canadian geneticist and environmentalist David Suzuki.

Everyone has a role to play in facing what U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has called the “defining challenge of our age.” It’s up to educators to spread the word. Is your school teaching climate change? If not, now is the time to start.

Four Ways to Grow Green

  1. Avert political gridlock with character education. Educators are often pressured into staying within a defined curriculum to avoid turmoil. This makes it challenging to introduce politically charged issues such as global warming. For this one, stress that climate change is a human issue (not a political one) that will economically and socially affect people all over the globe.Enlist the language of the Six Pillars of Character when persuading administrators or community members. Argue that good citizens of the 21st century respect nature and have a responsibility to one another to maintain a clean, habitable environment. As denizens of a global village, we also have a duty to be fair when distributing and consuming limited natural resources.Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair summed it up when he said, “The only society that works today is one founded on mutual respect, on a recognition that we have a responsibility collectively and individually to help each other on the basis of each other’s equal worth. A selfish society is a contradiction in terms.”
  2. Avoid talk of the apocalypse. “We have just ten years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tailspin of epic destruction involving extreme weather, floods, droughts, epidemics, and killer heat waves beyond anything we have ever experienced,” warns the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. How do you break that kind of news to a kid?Start by explaining the science behind global warming. Like the saying goes, people fear what they don’t understand. Stick with what we know. Touch on, but don’t dwell on, the hypothetical consequences of climate change. It’s important that kids grasp the gravity of the situation, but scaring them won’t reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.
  3. Change the world. Even though scientists predict dire consequences if we continue along the trajectory of industrial “progress,” many are optimistic about the future. Glenn Albrecht, an Australian researcher and professor who studies the effects of climate change on the human psyche, offers this thought: “I’m not willing to give up on encouraging change towards sustainability even in the face of what looks like overwhelming negative forces.”It’s an exciting time to be alive. As teachers, we can get the ball rolling by encouraging youngsters to play a pivotal role in the fate of climate change. Empower your students to live sustainably, promote eco-awareness, and get involved in the political process.
  4. Take advantage of technology. Because the U.S. government is just now accepting that human activity has contributed to climate change, textbook publishers are scrambling to introduce comprehensive coverage of the issue. Look to the Web for teaching resources. As a start, we recommend these pages (listed alphabetically):11th Hour
    An extension of the documentary, The 11th Hour, which explores how we live, how we impact the earth’s ecosystems, and what we can do to change our course. The following pages offer specific ways students of all ages can get involved in the green movement:
    Take Action – Schools and Colleges
    Take Action – Kids

    AIT in the Classroom
    Supplemental materials to An Inconvenient Truth, the award-winning documentary on former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to make global warming a worldwide issue.

    The Center for Eco Literacy
    Dedicated to education for sustainable living.

    Children and Urban Agriculture
    Links to programs, projects, and resources for educating children about sustainability.

    The Cloud Institute for Sustainable Education
    Inspires young people to think about their world, their place in it, and their ability to influence it.

    EPA Climate Change Kids Site
    Offers information, games, and resources for teachers and administrators.

    Global Challenge
    Challenges students to get involved in solving the world’s most intractable problems, including climate change, poverty, and disease.

    NOW Classroom
    A television program and accompanying Web database provided by PBS dedicated to exploring current events. Use the search function to find information on global warming.

    Roots & Shoots
    Jane Goodall Institute’s program is a powerful, youth-driven, global network of more than 8,000 groups in almost 100 countries that encourages service-learning projects that promote care and concern for animals, the environment, and the human community. A special segment of the site is dedicated to educators.

    The Urban and Environmental Policy Institute
    An umbrella group for community-based sustainability initiatives, education, and other programs.

Revolve or Evolve

Fewer than 300 years after the Industrial Revolution, modern civilization has arrived at the brink of its adolescence. Technology won’t disappear, but we have an opportunity to transcend our self-absorbed, industrial youth. Will we mature into a respectful, globally conscious, sustainable citizenry? Or will we continue to rebel against nature? Educators have the power to shape the future. You decide.