Our students have done their climate change homework, and now they’re walking out of school to demand that adults pay attention. We need an unprecedented effort from all sectors of society – and the kids are making it clear that they are up to the task. Are we?
The global mobilization of youth around climate action is coming to a school near you tomorrow, September 20th, and it puts pressure squarely on the institutions that prepare our children for the future: their schools.
As children organize for a school strike, just three days before the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, they have a big, brave ask: adults should recognize, prioritize and address the climate emergency now, and join them by striking to protect the health of children and marginalized communities around the globe, which are disproportionately impacted by climate change. And they are striking because this is the generation that will face climate change head on. The climate crisis will become the story of students alive today, and those lives will be very different from their parents and teachers.
As a former teacher and school administrator, I have never seen such a powerful movement rise up from children’s frustration with adults.
When Alexandria is a middle-aged woman, her New York City home is expected to be 5 degrees warmer, and “the likelihood of Hurricane-Sandy-sized floods could increase 17-fold.” NYC winters are estimated to have 22 less below-freezing days, and summer temps will soar through the 90’s.
Teachers should be preparing their students for this reality, and giving them the tools to fight for a different future. According to an NPR/Ipsos poll, most teachers don’t teach climate change, but more than 80% of US parents wish they did. In fact, people are willing to cross political boundaries on the issue whether they have children or not, with 2 out of 3 of Republicans, and 9 in 10 Democrats, in agreement that climate change needs to be taught in school. Eight-six percent of teachers concur that climate change should be taught in their school.
Yet there’s a distinct disconnect among what parents and teachers are actually doing about the issue. While many states include climate change in classroom standards, most teachers are not talking about climate change in their classes. And with less than half of parents polled not even discussing climate change with their children, it’s no wonder our kids blame the adults.
Students get that we’ve known about climate change for decades, and after years and years of too many climate talks and too little climate progress, they’re taking matters into their own hands. As 16 year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg said, “We have learned that if we don’t start acting for our future, nobody else will make the first move. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.”
In these days leading up to the strike before she addresses the UN Climate Summit, Greta will be meeting with Our Children’s Trust youth who are suing the US government to get action on climate change.
Another, even younger activist, Havana Chapman-Edwards says, “I am only 8 years old, so I am used to grown-ups underestimating me. And right now, grown-ups are underestimating the climate crisis, too.”
It’s time for teachers to put their bodies where their hearts are and support this youth movement.
Teachers, let young climate activists know that we are listening to their call for action. Honor their health, safety, and intellect by supporting the strike. And remember, whatever your school’s protocol for walking out of class is, most kids can live with the consequences of skipping school, but what should strike fear in the hearts of teachers are the intensifying consequences of climate inaction. That’s exactly why teachers should walk out of school right behind their students.