by Joel Porter
Evidence of climate change is everywhere these days: a steady stream of alarming reports about extreme wildfires, “super” storms, droughts, floods, crop failures, displaced climate refugees, and more. This information can often be overwhelming – especially in today’s politically polarized world. But the more we can equip people with facts, the more effective their responses to our climate crisis will be. That’s why teachers and educators, as outfitters of knowledge, have such critical roles to play. By helping equip our future generations, teachers are among the most important advocates for climate action that we have.
Young people are concerned about the climate. They are making the connection between ecological disasters and human activity, and know that unless we change course they will be forced to deal with the worst outcomes of the climate crisis. They want change and they can help spur action. They take what they learn at school home, and share it with their families and communities through conversations at the dinner table, over social media, and in other day-to-day interactions. That is some of the most important and effective advocacy that is being done right now, and teachers are the driving force behind it.
A great story about this kind of advocacy is often told by former Republican congressman and current “Climate Hawk” Bob Inglis (R-SC-04). Back in the early 2000s, he was convinced by his son to vote in favor of climate solutions. His advocacy cost him his seat. But the experience inspired him to become one of the loudest voices for action on “his side” of the political aisle.
It is important to remember that the politics behind climate change haven’t always been as toxic as they are today. As noted by E&E News, every President going back to JFK has been warned about the dangers posed by human-caused climate change. At both the state and federal level, there have been bipartisan efforts to address the crisis. In 1990, under President Bush, amendments to the Clean Air Act created a market mechanism to reduce the dangerous pollutants that caused ozone damage and acid rain. In 2001, the North Carolina General Assembly passed the Clean Smokestacks Act to further reduce pollution. There have been bipartisan agreements to incentivize clean energy development as well as increased efforts to conserve natural habitat and resources.
More can and must be done to fully address this climate emergency and keep warming within sustainable levels. Educators can encourage their students, friends, colleagues, neighbors, and everyone who will listen to speak up about this problem. Our legislators and policymakers — mayors, city councils, county boards, state legislatures, and federal officials — all need to hear this crucial message: we need to take immediate, transformative action on climate change.
To help individuals learn to be more effective advocates for climate solutions, Clean Air Carolina is partnering with ecoAmeria to host a series of Climate Ambassador trainings for teachers, parents, and anyone else who wants to help put us on a sustainable path forward. These training sessions dive into how to talk about the issue, how to write effective op-eds and letters to policymakers, and other ways to help raise awareness about our environment’s greatest challenge.
To get back to creating durable, bipartisan solutions to reduce carbon pollution and slow climate change, we need more policymakers like Bob Inglis who are willing to fight for their children’s future. Advocacy is the catalyst, and we need passionate teachers and educators to help us spur it into action.