2020 Teach-In Toolkit

Teach-ins throughout 2020 will play a significant role in providing communities with the knowledge they need to advocate for a cleaner, more secure future. Use this toolkit to plan an effective teach-in that will bring your community together and build capacity to make change!

Introduction

TEACH IN n. a series of lectures and discussions on a subject of public interest focused on taking action

In 1970, during an era of civic action and public demonstrations, concerned citizens from all walks of life deployed environmental teach-ins at the first Earth Day. Around the USA, they gathered to learn the facts about environmental degradation happening across the country. Earth Day teach-ins helped educate and mobilize citizens across America to demand that Congress act to protect the environment. Ultimately, this activism led to the formation of the Environmental Protection Agency and landmark legislative accomplishments.

A teach-in is similar to a general educational gathering on any complicated issue, usually an issue or problem of importance to society. The main difference between a teach-in and a seminar is the refusal to limit the discussion to a strict academic scope. Teach-ins are meant to be practical, participatory and oriented toward action. While they include experts lecturing on the area of their expertise, discussion and questions from the audience are encouraged and at the core of the methodology. Teach-ins should end with the community deciding on a call-to-action for what steps they can take to make a difference.

Earth Day Network believes that grassroots activism is the best way to build a world literate in climate and environmental science. One avenue to develop environmental literacy is through high-quality environmental education programs which help learners develop attitudes, knowledge and skills to tackle complex environmental issues. Environmental education also leads to an internalization of environmental values. A world inspired by environmental values will take local, regional and global actions to safeguard the Earth and its inhabitants.

You have the opportunity to support your community in building their awareness and motivation to address local and global environmental issues. With this toolkit you will be able to organize an Environmental Teach-In at your school, zoo and aquarium, nature center and beyond. You will also be able to adapt this material digitally to gather your community in virtual teach-ins!



The environmental teach-in is just as relevant and crucial today as it was to the first Earth Day in 1970. In this new era of climate change and climate activism, teach-ins are once again a meaningful way for communities to come together to address local environmental issues. However, the definition of a community goes far beyond a city’s boundaries. In this digital age, virtual teach-ins can connect communities of all kinds. And most importantly, teach-ins are not just for university campuses or school-aged children. They can take place at community centers, faith institutions, city parks, living rooms, retirement communities or an online chat room. Teach-ins can also take place at any point in the year, and in no way need to be restricted to on or around Earth Day or April. The true value of global teach-ins in 2020 will be demonstrated in the long-term outcomes of new environmental policy, community resilience and a healthier future for our planet.

In the face of the COVID-19 crisis, virtual teach-ins are also a way to connect communities that otherwise would not be able to come together in person. Although the climate crisis and COVID-19 present significant challenges, today’s circumstances also unite us stronger than ever before. Therefore, we are in the unique position to come together over our shared experiences and concern for the health of each other and of our natural systems.

When planning a teach-in, we encourage you to do whatever is most meaningful and appropriate for you and your community. There are many online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Skype or Google Hangouts or livestreaming services such as Youtube or Facebook Live that can help you facilitate digital events. Your digital events should have the same goals as in-person gatherings, while also adjusting logistics to best suit the abilities and needs of your audience. We are here to help you plan every step of the way.

The goals for 2020 Teach-Ins are:

  1. Inform communities about local environmental issues and how climate change will impact their region, the country and the world.
  2. Promote values and behaviors that address environmental degradation and climate change in an inclusive and participatory setting.
  3. Empower your community with the civic engagement skills necessary to take action to help fight climate change.

  1. Form an Organizing Committee
    Engage with local community organizations or businesses that have skills or resources that can help plan an event.

  2. Recruit Program Speakers
    Professors, elected officials, faith leaders, advocates, local community leaders and student activists make great teach-in speakers. Make sure your community is well represented in your speaker choices.

  3. Select a Moderator
    Your moderator should keep the program on track, help foster an inclusive discussion between speakers and audience and help keep your audience engaged.

  4. Assess for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
    Be inclusive of all incomes, races, languages, religions, classes, abilities and identities. Ask yourself and the planning committee; “Whose voices aren’t at the table? Are we creating a safe and inclusive space for all community members?” What steps can your committee take to get the word out to wider audience? How can you make the event more accessible?

  5. Pre-Event Logistics
    Think about the needs of your intended audience and event. For digital events, the most important decision you will make is deciding which platform you will use to broadcast your event. Some platforms require registration, while others do not. Some platforms allow your broadcast to be recorded, while others do not. Make sure to choose a platform that can accommodate the size of your intended audience. Seek out volunteers who are savvy in technology to help make informed decisions about virtual platforms. Some ideas include Zoom, WebEx, GoToWebinar, YouTube Live, Facebook Live and Instagram Stories Live. For in-person events, think about your event’s needs such as audio equipment, venue space, registration and accessibility. Consider providing ASL interpretation and other translation services. Provide closed captions on video streams.

  6. Create an Agenda
    Introduce your event with the big picture of why this issue is important. For virtual teach-ins, set guidelines for participation and do an icebreaker that attendees can answer in the chat box. Plan enough time for your speakers, panels, Q&A time and/or group discussion. Depending on the bandwidth of your online platform, divide participants into smaller break-out groups that can reflect on the topic. End with a call to action for the audience to take.

  7. Community Outreach
    Social media, local news outlets and digital flyers are great ways to promote your event. Partner with local businesses and leaders who can promote with you, and don’t forget to share your voice at EarthDay.org/todays-action.

  8. Test Your Technology
    If your presenters will be tuning in from different locations, schedule a dry run to ensure that all cameras and microphones work well, picture and sound are clear and that volunteers handling the technology are comfortable with what they need to do (e.g., switching between presenters, monitoring questions from the audience, etc.).

  9. Amplify Your Live Virtual Event
    Share live updates from your event on social media using the hashtags #EarthDay2020 and #EARTHRISE. Afterwards, share the success of your event through local newsletters, print and other communications channels.

  10. Follow up
    Find ways to check in with your audience after the event to hear what successes and obstacles they faced while taking action to protect the environment. Don’t forget to thank speakers and volunteers for pitching in their time and resources to ensure that your teach-in is a success.

A critical element of a teach-in event is for community members to decide on actions they can take to address the environmental issues impacting them. In 2020, it is not enough for people to simply raise awareness. In order to secure a safe and healthy future we need bold, ambitious and long-lasting action from individuals, communities, businesses and governments at all levels.

Join the global movement by registering the actions your community takes to combat environmental degradation and climate change.

  • The Great Global Cleanup: Clean up your community and implement strategies to halt future litter at the source. Find a cleanup near you!

  • EARTHRISE: In 1970, 20 million Americans took to the streets to demand environmental protections. Find a demonstration near you and use your voice to demand climate action.

  • Billion Acts of Green: 2020 is the year of collective global action on the environment. Register your Acts of Green and help us reach 3.5 billion acts in 2020!

  • Vote Earth: The success of democratic government relies on our elected officials representing our values and interests. Take climate action to the polls and elect the best official for you!

Teach-In Topic Grab Bags

Not sure what topic to focus your teach-in on, or aren’t sure where to start? Use these grab bags as a springboard to plan your event on a topic that impacts your community.

Environmental Degradation

The Issue:

Plastic pollution is a global issue that poses threats to the health and productivity of our environment. Plastic bottles and bags can take hundreds of years to breakdown, or potentially thousands of years when compressed in landfills. However, plastic items never truly completely decompose. Chemicals and microplastics will linger in the environment for centuries. Chemical leaching and the accumulation of microplastics through the food chain has been link to disease, cancers and the disruption of reproductive and immune systems in both humans and wildlife.

Animals can also become trapped by the plastic, which can make it difficult to move to escape predators or find food. Coastal and open sea fishing operations often leave plastic nets in the ocean where animals can become tangled and trapped. Even when people do their best to recycle their plastic items it often ends up in landfills, shipped across the world to processing facilities, or even incinerated. This increases their risk of getting lost in the process and ending up in our waters or as harmful chemicals in the atmosphere.

Despite all the environmental concerns, the low costs and convenience of many plastic items make demand and production of them continually increase. Societies around the world must both address individual plastic usage and the reckless production of plastic products at the industrial level.

Learn more:

  • Learn more about the impacts of plastic pollution on human health from Earth Day Network’s plastic fact sheet.
  • Explore key findings from the Plastic Pollution Coalition on how plastic, at every stage of production and use, impacts human health.
  • Discover how plastic pollution impacts wildlife and contributes to biodiversity loss from the World Wildlife Fund.
  • Review the answers to frequently asked questions about global plastic pollution from Our World in Data.
  • For more information about plastic pollution and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about the extent of plastic pollution in your community and worldwide and the impacts to human and environmental health.
Promote concepts and values that encourage your audience to be aware of purchasing decisions and take steps to reduce waste production.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to push for long-term solutions to plastic pollution.

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Re-purpose and Recycle. Refusing single use plastic items is the number one way to lessen plastic pollution.
  • Gift a friend or colleague a reusable item like a metal straw, reusable grocery bags or a to-go coffee mug.

Community Action

  • Host or participate in a Great Global Cleanup event to remove plastic litter from your community and identify the sources of pollution. Find an event near you.
  • Ask local businesses like coffee shops or markets to implement rewards incentives for customers who bring reusable items.

Advocate for Change

  • Petition your elected officials to either introduce or pass legislation to ban single use plastics.
  • Mobilize a boycott of a company or organization that is contributing to plastic pollution, either locally or globally. Build momentum by gathering support online.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Waste management professional
  • Environment or conservation professor
  • Health services worker
  • Nature center staff
  • Elected official

The Issue:

From the largest mammal to the smallest insect, every species plays a distinct and important role on Earth. Whether found in your backyard or across the world, they maintain a vital balance in habitats and resources we depend on. Species perform many ecosystem services, which are benefits that we freely take from the environment. Some of these services include water and air purification, pollination and climate regulation.

Earth is currently experiencing a mass extinction due to human activities such as deforestation, overhunting, pollution and climate change. 99% of the threatened species are affected by anthropogenic activities and dozens of species go extinct every day. The loss of any organism can have negative chain reaction effects and put ecosystem balance, as well as our own health, at stake. The future of species protection depends on individual actions people take every day and top-down protections put in place by governments around the world.

Learn more:

  • See what Earth Day Network is doing to Protect Our Species for Earth Day’s 50th anniversary!
  • Learn more about the extinction crisis around the world from the Center for Biological Diversity.
  • Explore the World Wildlife Fund’s New Deal to learn more about why nature loss is important and the benefits of taking action.
  • For more information about biodiversity loss and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about both the global and local impacts of species extinction.
Promote concepts and values that encourage your audience to understand the role of each species in maintaining ecosystem balance.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to protecting biodiversity at the local and global level.

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Be a conscious consumer and tourist by participating in ecotourism and supporting cruelty-free, reusable and Certified Vegan products.
  • Find eco-friendly and ethical alternatives to your home or business’s pesticides, herbicides and cleaning products.

Community Action

  • RefuseHost events for the Great Global Cleanup and remove harmful litter from your local environment. Don’t forget to register your cleanup!
  • Organize invasive species removal projects and designate protected areas where native species can thrive.

Advocate for Change

  • RefuseUrge your local representatives to support species protection by signing petitions and writing letters.
  • Participate in an EarthRise event to demonstrate collective public commitment to species protection and climate action!

Speaker Ideas:

  • Biology or conservation professor
  • Nature center staff
  • Park Ranger
  • Government conservation professional
  • Zoo/Aquarium educator

The Issue:

The air we breathe is vital for the survival of humans and all other species that call Earth home. In recent decades an increase in quantities of particulates, chemicals and harmful gases have affected the quality of this basic requirement for life. Earth’s forests serve as a natural air filtration system but as humans destroy forested habitats around the world air quality will continue to decline.

Ambient (outdoor) air pollution comes from emissions from fossil fuel burning, wildfires, agriculture and dust/sand storms. Burning of waste is another large contributor that emits a slew of extremely toxic chemicals into the air we breathe. Pollution can travel great distances and remain in the air for extended periods of time. Therefore, although someone may not have caused the pollution, they may be negatively affected by it. Poor air quality is dangerous to our most vulnerable citizens, including young children, the elderly and anyone with respiratory issues. Over three million deaths a year are a result from air pollution, most of which occur in lower income countries.

Individuals can reduce their contribution to air pollution by switching to renewable energy sources when possible and reducing fossil fuel consumption by travel. Though individual action helps, substantial progress will not be made without heavy polluting industries being held accountable. These industries often locate themselves next to disadvantaged communities because they lack to resources to fight them, so it is important to support equitable and just decision making in industry and energy sectors.

Learn more:

  • Review the health risks, environmental justice link and climate impacts of air pollution from the World Health Organization.
  • Explore the UN Environmental Assembly’s infographic on the types of air pollution and what you can do to improve air quality in your home or community.
  • For more information about air quality and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about how improper air quality affects humans and ecosystems.
Promote concepts and values that encourage your audience to understand the link between human actions and harmful quality of air.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to improving local air quality!

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Coordinate carpools with friends and colleagues or take public transportation to reduce the air pollution of personal vehicles.
  • Avoid burning leaves, trash and other materials that emit carbon and chemicals that pollute the air.

Community Action

  • Host or participate in a community tree planting event. Let Earth Day Network plant trees on your community’s behalf through the Canopy Project.
  • Organize an Earth Challenge data collection event for community members to measure local air quality.

Advocate for Change

  • Petition your elected officials to implement air quality protection policies like no idling laws and regulations for big polluters.
  • Find an EarthRise event near you to demand action on environmental protection and climate change.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Health services worker
  • Environmental science professor
  • Urban planner
  • Forester

The Issue:

Water connects everything around us. It covers about 71% of the Earth’s surface and is found in the ground underneath our feet, in the air that we breathe and in the clouds over our heads. As one of the most important nutrients on our planet, water is necessary for all life. It encourages plant growth, provides a home for many organisms and supports the functioning of our bodies. Unfortunately, of the world’s total water supply, over 96% is saline water found in oceans, while only 2.5% is fresh water. Because much of this 2.5% is trapped in glaciers or polluted, only about 0.007% of all water is left to support the world’s rapidly growing population.

Water pollution is an issue all over the globe but affects low-income and developing communities the hardest. Sources of pollution are often placed near low-income and minority communities who don’t have the resources to fight against large polluters. Industry, agriculture and human behavior are all responsible for the chemical, plastic and nutrient pollution that impact water quality. These sources of pollution threaten both human health and the health and productivity of our natural environment. Toxic chemicals can kill animals, deprive ecosystems of oxygen and reduce species’ ability to reproduce. Marine and terrestrial animals also ingest debris pollution or become entangled in it. The impacts of climate change, like heat events and drought, will place increasing stress on the Earth’s water systems as both human and wildlife water needs are strained.

Learn more:

  • To learn more about how wastewater from cities, industry and agriculture impact water quality visit UNWater.org.
  • Explore World Wildlife Fund’s overview of the causes and impacts of pollution on the environment.
  • Learn more about the scale of polluted drinking water and the human health impacts from the World Health Organization.
  • Read the UN Environment’s Sustainable Development Goals and targets for clean water and sanitation.
  • For more information about water quality and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about threats to clean drinking water and the impacts of pollution on human and environmental health.
Promote concepts and values that encourage your audience to evaluate their personal or community impact on water quality.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to advocate for safe drinking water and pollutant free ecosystems!

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Never flush medication down drains. Create an education campaign to help your community properly dispose of excess or expired medications.
  • Replace toxic cleaning supplies in your home with water safe, natural alternatives.

Community Action

  • Host or participate in an event for the Great Global Cleanup to remove litter from your community.
  • Implement a campaign to increase trash and recycling receptacles available in public spaces.

Advocate for Change

  • Petition your employer, school or government officials to replace all grounds keeping chemicals like pesticides and fertilizers with water safe alternatives.
  • Create a movement to demand better wastewater management infrastructure to prevent more pollutants from entering your water system.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Wastewater treatment professional
  • Biology or conservation professor
  • Health services worker
  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Nature center staff

Advocacy

The Issue:


Environmental justice refers to the equity of protection against environmental burdens and health concerns across people of all races, national origins and incomes. It is achieved when everyone has equal protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision making process for a healthy environment. Race and social class play a large role in determining where environmental injustices most frequently occur. Low-income, indigenous and communities of color are often disproportionately on the front lines of climate change impacts and environmental disasters due to historical community segregation which persists today.

Though the first Earth Day in 1970 resulted in landmark environmental protections that are still seen today, there are criticisms of the modern environmental movement in the United States not being inclusive of all communities and in some cases excluding communities most impacted by environmental injustices. One example comes from Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania as tensions between civil rights and environmental groups on campus and in the community resulted in protests, fires and bomb threats.

The environmental justice movement arose when individuals, and mainly people of color, spoke up against pollution and environmental destruction disproportionately impacting their communities. The 1982 PCB soil dumping and resulting protests in Warren County, North Carolina are seen as the birth of the environmental justice movement. The county, which had a 65% Black population at the time, protested for 6 weeks but was met with police pushback and 500 arrests. Despite their efforts, the landfill was filled with contaminated soil that was bound to leak and pollute their water, which would cause severe health issues, such as cancer.

Power plants, landfills and other polluters purchase land in communities they believe will not have the political or economic power to kick them out or prevent them from contaminating the surrounding land. Centuries of systematic racism also enables these injustices to occur without repercussions. Still today, highways, factories and toxic waste sites are intentionally placed in low-income and Black communities. This leads to higher rates of health problems. Since the 1980’s people have used the acronym NIMBY, or not in my backyard. People support wind energy until a turbine blocks their view, or nuclear energy until the plant is within a 5 mile radius, or enjoy eating meat until the stench from a nearby pig farm infiltrates their neighborhood. The environmental justice movement works to ensure that these environmental catastrophes or even inconveniences do not disproportionately impact BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) communities.

Water injustice, including but not limited to water pollution, privatization and unaffordable prices all lead to increased water insecurity. Millions of people, particularly Black and Native Americans, in the US go without water because they can’t afford it or can only access contaminated water. The ongoing water crisis of Flint, Michigan is but one example of water injustice in which a contaminated water source and poor governmental response resulted in major health issues. Furthermore, food justice is another issue that continues to impact many communities that don’t have equitable access to healthy food.

Around the world, and possibly on the very land you are on, development and animal agriculture displace indigenous people from their traditional lands. Though indigenous people represent just 5% of the world’s population, the land they live on supports 80% of the world’s biodiversity. When we strip their lands and cultures, we destroy the centuries-old traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) that is necessary to protect the environment.

The climate crisis is therefore a human rights issue, and many of the policies and systems currently in place penetrate both environmental and racial injustices. In order to tackle climate change, local and federal government must establish bills or policies that value the opinion of people the policy directly impacts so that it benefits them in the best way possible. These policies must equally guarantee racial justice in a just transition to a carbon-neutral future. In order to achieve our goals of climate literacy and a sustainable future, we must ensure that all voices are not only heard but also listened to.

Learn more:

  • To learn more about a Just Transition as a framework for racial and environmental justice, check out Climate Justice Alliance’s website
  • Familiarize yourself with the history of the environmental justice movement and how the roots of environmental justice in low-income communities of color are necessary to inform changes moving forward.
  • Review this Environmental Justice Toolkit from Learning to Give for more ideas and actions related to understanding and addressing environmental justice.
  • Watch District 15, a film produced by Patagonia which highlights an environmental justice issue that has not yet been solved.
  • For more information about environmental justice and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about the disproportionate impacts of climate change on marginalized peoples and the environmental injustices that may be present in your community.
Promote the concepts and values that prepare your audience to take action on environmental justice.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to implement just, inclusive and resilient solutions to climate change.

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Research an environmental justice issue that is impacting your community. Practice researching, interviewing, data collection and analytic skills.
  • Evaluate how you can incorporate meaningful work for justice into your current practices, job or school curricula.
  • Register to Vote Earth.

Community Action

  • Volunteer for a local organization advocating for justice, and find out how you can get involved in local community events.
  • Hold a conversation or Teach-In to share experiences and learn from others. Use what you learn to advocate for fairness and change.

Advocate for Change

  • Petition your elected officials to support climate resilience plans that are inclusive of and led by front-line communities, provide relief directly to those in need and center community health as a top priority. Explain the connection between environmental advocacy and social justice.
  • Organize or participate in a community demonstration to demand climate action from your elected officials.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Representatives of an environmental justice organization
  • Community member with a personal impact story
  • Students/youth working to make a change
  • Representatives from local indigenous tribes and organizations
  • Representatives from local energy companies and water management entities

The Issue:

Most occupied land in the Americas and around the world originally belonged to native groups of people. So how did their land end up in the hands of larger states? Colonialism promoted land capture at the expense of indigenous rights to their land, lives and culture. Eurocentric thinking supported the idea that natural resources were something to be exploited by humans because ‘humans are the rulers of the world’. This idea unfortunately also led to the accelerated destruction of the environment. Other, more traditional, ways of thinking value the environment differently: they see humans as a part of the environment and the environment as a part of humanity. This connectivity is more sustainable because the natural environment is instead valued in similar ways to human rights.

Animals can also become trapped by the plastic, which can make it difficult to move to escape predators or find food. Coastal and open sea fishing operations often leave plastic nets in the ocean where animals can become tangled and trapped. Even when people do their best to recycle their plastic items it often ends up in landfills, shipped across the world to processing facilities, or even incinerated. This increases their risk of getting lost in the process and ending up in our waters or as harmful chemicals in the atmosphere.
Indigenous land rights is a specific part of environmental justice that dates back to the beginning of civilization. It is not necessarily the most sustainable cultures that survive, but the conquerors with more advanced technology and military equipment. It is important to recognize that indigenous cultures often have traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) of how to live in harmony with the land. TEK highlights how local community diversity between different tribes respects each group’s indigenous knowledge of place-specific sustainable land stewardship. It is critical to learn from indigenous TEK to better understand the long history of sustainable living, incorporate it into daily lives and conserve natural resources for future generations to come.

The most pressing part of the indigenous land rights argument is that their land was stolen from them through genocide, manipulation and force. These are all true. Native people should have the right to govern and care for the land that is rightfully theirs, not only because it is their land, but also because they tend to be better stewards of the land. Environmental justice, in this context, is another example of how human rights and environmental rights are interconnected.

Learn more:

  • Learn more about the history and impact of colonialism on marginalized communities.
  • The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs has resources available on Indigenous land rights and the impact on the environment.
  • Read more about TEK and how it can inform our relationships with the environment.
  • Take a look at our Environmental Justice grab bag to learn more about how inequality and environmental justice are connected.
  • The July 2020 Supreme Court ruling in favor of historical treaty rights and a step towards protecting indigenous land sovereignty.
  • Federal Judge rules in favor of delaying Dakota Access Pipeline amid pressure from indigenous land rights activists and environmental groups.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about the impact of colonialism on indigenous peoples and the environmental impact this has on land across the world today.
Promote the concepts and values that prepare your audience to take action to protect and restore the rights of local indigenous communities.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to implement just, inclusive and resilient solutions to climate change

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Research a local indigenous land rights issue that is impacting your community. If possible, engage in conversation with the members of a local tribe to better understand their values, and how colonialism continues to affect their community.
  • Evaluate how you can incorporate meaningful work for land rights justice into your current practices, job or school curricula.

Community Action

  • Volunteer for a local organization advocating for indigenous rights and find out how your local community can better protect the original peoples of the land you are currently occupying.
  • Engage with local indigenous tribes and share experiences with them as they share experiences with your community. Conversation allows understanding.
  • Talk amongst your community about land rights in general and how it affects the natural environment in your community.

Advocate for Change

  • Petition your elected officials to better support climate resilience plans that are inclusive of and led by front-line communities, provide relief directly to the people and center community health as a top priority. Explain the connection between environmental advocacy and social justice.
  • Register to Vote Earth with Earth Day Network and vote for candidates that prioritize indigenous rights.
  • Organize or participate in a community demonstration to demand climate action and better protection of indigenous rights from your elected officials.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Waste management professional
  • Representatives of a local indigenous tribe
  • Speaker from an Indigenous rights activist organization
  • Community member with a personal impact story
  • Students/youth working to make a change

The Issue:

Civic engagement is when an individual or group works to address community issues through advocacy and collective action. It is a powerful tool used to drive large-scale change because the voices of a collective group are hard to ignore. It is especially important to use civic engagement to push for climate action because world leaders will only institute change when their constituents demand it. Civic engagement is rooted in U.S. history, as every movement of change in the U.S. stems from collective demands through grassroot action, organizing and voting. This can be witnessed through the environmental, civil rights, women’s rights and labor rights movements of the past and present.

The environmental movement of the 1970s began after a series of environmental disasters got national coverage. A small group of organizers spread the word across the country and were able to mobilize 20 million people to demand change on the first Earth Day. The movement gained momentum and found a first wave of success when federal environmental protection measures such as the Clean Air and Water Acts were passed and the EPA was formed. However, recent rollbacks and loopholes have undone much of the progress we have seen since then.

Today, we are falling short on environmental targets and our leaders are not doing enough to ensure safety, security and justice in communities in the U.S. and around the world. In addition, voter suppression disproportionately limits the voting rights of people of color, young people, the elderly and those with disabilities. In other words, voter ID restrictions, registration restrictions, purges, felony disenfranchisement and gerrymandering result in the lowest voting turnout among these populations. The impacts of the pandemic have also further highlighted the connections between environmental issues and social equity. The disproportionate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Black, Indigenous and communities of color drastically illuminate the connection between health and environmental justice.

By pledging to Vote Earth in the 2020 election — or voting for people and policies that support environmental protection and justice — you can use your voice to fight for people and the planet. Vote Earth is to also vote for issues innately tied to environmental justice: racial, voting and health justice. Before and after you Vote Earth, there are many more ways to be civically engaged that are just as important. Whether volunteering for local environmental groups and educating yourself and others on issues related to the environment and justice, your individual voice is necessary to creating large-scale change.

Learn more:

Objectives:

Inform the public about the importance of civic engagement and Vote Earth to protect people and the planet.
Promote the values and behaviors that prepare your audience to register and commit to vote for environmental protection and justice.
Empower others to join the movement and use their voice!

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Pledge to Vote Earth during the next elections at EarthDay.org
  • Research and advocate for politicians who share your values of environmental protection and justice. Local elections are equally important as state and federal elections.
  • Recruit your family and friends in joining you to Vote Earth. Make sure everyone is registered to vote and has their voting plan ready.

Community Action

  • Host a voter registration drive and invite local candidates to share their views on the environment and social justice.
  • Organize a transportation service for community members who may have difficulty accessing polling locations.

Advocate for Change

  • Use social media as a platform to raise your voice and amplify issues you are passionate about.
  • Reach out to candidates online and at town halls to urge them to prioritize environmental and justice policies. Hold elected officials accountable to their commitments.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Voting rights advocate
  • Climate change expert
  • Environmental professionals who can speak to local issues
  • Community member with a personal impact story

Dig Deeper into Food Sustainability

The Issue:

Much like clean water and air, food is necessary to our survival. However, an inefficient global food system has compromised the ability of people to access sufficient quantities of nutritious food. The food system is a major contributor to environmental degradation around the world, as it significantly contributes to climate change through deforestation, pollution and food waste. This system also exacerbates inequality issues surrounding hunger and nutrition.

Forests around the world are burned to clear land for livestock and crops to feed them. As we dedicate more land to this practice, less fertile cropland is available to grow food meant for human consumption, which contributes to a global hunger crisis. Clearing forested land destroys vital carbon sequestration services and habitat that supports countless species. These problems are all made worse by the fact that so much of the food produced worldwide is wasted through processing and being thrown away by consumers. As food waste breaks down it releases carbon dioxide and methane which drive climate change. As climate change progresses, extreme weather events, like drought and flooding, that destroy crops will further strain a fragile system.

The impacts and justice issues surrounding food sustainability are complicated, but fortunately some solutions are not. Adopting a more plant-based diet and buying food locally has a huge impact on an individual’s climate footprint. Advocating for climate change action will also help drive societies towards developing more productive and equitable processes for feeding the world.

Learn more:

  • Explore Earth Day Network’s FoodPrint’s for the Future campaign to learn more about the food and climate connection (and explore tasty new recipes to try!) We encourage you to fight climate change with diet change by eating more plants.
  • Read Earth Day Network’s overview on the UN IPCC report on land use and food production.
  • Review the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation’s key facts and principles on food sustainability.
  • For more information about food sustainability and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about the connection between the food system and climate change.
Promote concepts and values that encourage your audience to evaluate their food choices and adopt new behaviors.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to take a stand for secure and sustainable food!

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Commit to eating more plant-based foods and reduce your food waste by composting.
  • Shop at your local farmers market to find seasonal, fresh produce.

Community Action

  • Gather your community to have potluck style plant-based meals to share new recipes and ideas.
  • Establish a community garden and compost collection to grow free food for community members and food banks.

Advocate for Change

  • Encourage your school or organization’s cafeterias to offer plant-based meals and source food from local sustainable farmers.
  • Start a petition for your elected officials to address food waste, climate change and inequitable food access in your community.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Sustainable farmer
  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Food bank/pantry manager
  • Urban garden professional
  • Waste management professional

The Issue:

Growing and transporting the global food supply emits an enormous amount of greenhouse gases as we cut down forests and burn fossil fuels. This environmental impact is made worse by the fact that so much of the food produced to feed the world goes to waste, and still so many people remain hungry. Every year humans waste around  1.3 billion tons of food. In the United States, 30-40 percent of food is wasted through processing, post-harvest or by simply being thrown away. When we toss still-edible food into the trash it ends up in landfills where it releases carbon dioxide and methane. This accounts for  8.2 percent of the total human-made greenhouse gas emissions, which drives climate change.

Considering the energy-demanding and polluting methods that it takes to produce this food, the effects of this waste place even more stress on the growing global population and the environment. As the human population continues to surge, the global food system must adapt to lessen its environmental footprint while becoming more efficient at meeting worldwide nutritional needs.

Learn more:

Objectives:

Inform the audience about the scale of global food waste and the environmental impacts associated with food waste.
Promote the values and behaviors that encourage your audience to evaluate their habits around food waste.
Empower your community with the civic engagement skills necessary to lessen food waste at the community level and beyond!

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Reduce personal food waste by collecting food scraps for composting.
  • Be conscious of only purchasing the amount of food you will need for meals.

Community Action

  • Establish a compost collection service for the community to use in a local garden or farm.
  • Create a farmer’s market where growers can sell “ugly foods” and community members can support local farms.

Advocate for Change

  • Conduct a letter writing or phone banking campaign to urge elected officials to pass policy that reduces food waste at the local, state or national level.
  • Start a petition to require local restaurants, groceries and schools to direct unused food to local food kitchens or composting services.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Food bank/pantry manager
  • Environmental studies professor
  • Food services provider
  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Waste management professional

The Issue:

Food security is the physical and economic ability to access affordable, culturally appropriate and nutritional food. Unfortunately, due to unequal distribution of resources and the impacts of climate change, many people are currently food insecure and can’t acquire adequate food to meet their needs. In 2016 815 million people around the world were food insecure and in 2018, 14.3 million households were food insecure in the U.S. Many countries that experience food insecurity are large producers of grain and corn, only to use that food to feed livestock to meet the increasing global demand for meat. Food insecurity can increase the likelihood of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and mental health issues. Climate change impacts like flooding, drought and fire will have increasingly significant impacts on global food supply. This will worsen the situation of communities that lack food security due to financial and social limitations.

Learn more:

Objectives:

Inform the audience about the causes of food insecurity and the connections to climate change and environmental justice.
Promote the concepts and values that encourage your audience to understand food insecurity as both an environmental and human rights issue.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to ensuring food security locally and globally!

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Adopt a more plant-based diet to lower demand for meat driven agriculture and purchase food from companies that are committed to sustainable practices. Help fight climate change with diet change and eat more plants.
  • Volunteer for NGOs near you that work to provide food for food insecure families.

Community Action

  • Transform unused spaces into community gardens that provide free food to community members and food banks.
  • Identify locations in your community that are in need of a healthy, affordable grocery or market and start a co-op.

Advocate for Change

  • Petition to require local restaurants, groceries and schools to direct unused food to local food kitchens.
  • Contact your local, state or national representatives to advocate for programs that provide food access and increased economic opportunity to disadvantaged communities.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Food bank/pantry manager
  • Environmental studies professor
  • Food services provider
  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Community member with personal impact story

The Issue:

The Earth is currently losing an estimated 3.5 billion to 7 billion trees a year from deforestation. Around 70% of tropical deforestation results from clearing land for agriculture, the majority of which is devoted to animal agriculture. Every year as the world’s population grows, so does the demand for meat. As a result, more trees are cleared for agriculture to meet this demand. Deforestation also disproportionally affects indigenous communities who have relied on their native forests for food and shelter for millennia and are systematically removed from their lands by large corporations. We need to preserve our forests as they provide habitats for 80% of the world’s terrestrial species, protect our watersheds, support the livelihood of more than 1.6 billion people and provide us with clean air to breathe.

Learn more:

  • To learn how individuals and communities can protect forests through plant-based diets explore Earth Day Network’s FoodPrints for the Future campaign.
  • Visit the Rainforest Action Network to learn more about the Food-Forest Connection.
  • For more information on the ecological services and other benefits of forested land visit the UN Environment Program
  • To explore global land use and monitor forest loss and growth visit Global Forest Watch
  • For more information about agriculture driven deforestation and how it impacts your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about the causes and impacts of local and global deforestation.
Promote values and behaviors that encourage your audience to increase plant-based eating to help stop deforestation of Earth’s rich and diverse forested habitats.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to stop deforestation and advocate for the restoration of Earth’s natural habitats.

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Increase plant-based foods into your and your family’s diet. Start with going meatless one or two days a week and explore new foods. Fight climate change with diet change and eat more plants.
  • Purchase food and other products from responsible, sustainable farms and support local sources whenever possible.

Community Action

  • Ask restaurants, groceries and coffee shops in your community to offer more plant-based options.
  • Host a community tree planting to restore native tree cover in your area.

Advocate for Change

  • Write or call your local, state or national elected representatives to advocate for policies that protect forested lands.
  • Join a campaign that fights against deforestation and support indigenous rights.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Foresters or land management professionals
  • Environmental studies professor
  • Plant-based diet advocates or experts
  • Local farmers
  • Elected officials

Impacts of Climate Change

The Issue:

Climate change is occurring at an alarming rate and has many broad-reaching impacts on human health, the economy and the stability of the natural environment. Increased emissions of greenhouse gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide, that trap heat and block it from escaping the atmosphere drive significant global disruption to climate systems as we know them. As a result, surface temperatures are increasing, global sea levels are rising, glaciers are melting and oceans are acidifying. These place ever-increasing stress on the earth’s ability to support its inhabitants – plants, animals, and humans. Moving forward, climate change may negatively affect our food supply, national security, global health and push weather patterns into extremes.

As we more frequently see the effects of climate change occur we must take action to reduce our personal and societal contributions to climate change. Everyone will be affected by climate change in some way, but low-income communities and developing countries will be hit the hardest. All communities and governments need to rapidly reduce their carbon footprints while also implement adaptations for the impacts already occurring.

Learn more:

  • Explore ideas for how you can combat climate change in your daily choices and register your acts of green at EarthDay.org.
  • To learn more about human driven climate change and international efforts to slow it visit the United Nations Climate Change profile.
  • Visit the World Health Organization to learn more about how climate change may impact human health in your community.
  • For more information about climate change and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about how human activity drives climate change and what impacts their community may experience.
Promote concepts and values that encourage your audience to take individual and collective actions to address climate change.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to taking a stand against the climate crisis!

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Cut down on your personal emissions by reducing fossil fuel use, eating a more plant-based diet and reducing food waste.
  • Purchase food, products and services from companies that are committed to sustainable and equitable practices.

Community Action

  • Organize a tree planting campaign to increase native tree cover in your community, or fundraise to plant trees in deforested areas around the world. Check out EDN’s Canopy Project!
  • Organize or participate in a community demonstration to demand climate action from your elected officials. Find an EarthRise event near you.

Advocate for Change

  • Support political candidates and organizations with clear, ambitious and convincing plans to protect our planet. Register to Vote Earth with Earth Day Network.
  • Petition for local or state government buildings like schools and office buildings to divest from fossil fuel use and switch to renewable energy options.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Climate or environmental science professor
  • Urban planner
  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Community member with personal impact story
  • Sustainability expert

The Issue:

While the amount of water on Earth remains constant, the distribution of water on Earth may be severely altered by climate change. Due to rising temperatures, melting glaciers and sea ice and increased rates of evaporation associated with climate change, the distribution of water shifts toward the atmosphere. This alteration of distribution, as well as changing oceanic trends, threaten the typical weather patterns of many areas. In general, climate change is expected to bring less frequent, more intense rainfalls. Some regions may have much more rainfall while others may experience droughts. For example, many parts of Asia may become wetter, whereas parts of the U.S., Central America and Europe may become much drier.

Both flooding and drought can have catastrophic impacts on crop land, threatening food supplies all over the world. Flooding events can lead to water contamination, soil erosion, damage to property, loss of life and an increase in the spread of waterborne diseases. Extended periods of drought can lead to wildfires, heat related illnesses, economic losses. Access to water also have significant implications to geopolitical stability as water insecure countries start to experience mass migration to more secure locations.

Learn more:

  • To learn more about the impacts of drought worldwide and increase your communities resilience to drought, visit the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and explore their Drought Toolbox.
  • Explore more information on the impacts of water related disasters at UNWater.org.
  • Learn more about the connection between water resources and climate change from UN Water.
  • For more information on the impacts of flooding and how to mitigate flooding emergencies visit the UN-SPIDER profile on floods.
  • For more information about flooding and/or drought and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local nonprofits and organizations that are working to address these issues.

Objectives:

Inform the audience how climate change will change weather patterns and result in more extreme weather events.
Promote values and behaviors that prepare your audience to take action on climate change and to prepare for climate impacts that may affect them.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to build equitable community resilience against flooding and drought.

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Evaluate your home or business’s vulnerability to flood waters and develop a preparedness plan for protecting your assets.
  • Plant drought resistant native plant species and grasses to protect local habitat during drought periods.

Community Action

  • Install permeable surfaces like green roofs, green spaces, rain gardens and water catchment areas around your community to collect water during heavy rains.
  • Establish a community-based drought resiliency plan, take steps to conserve water and provide resources to vulnerable populations.

Advocate for Change

  • Meet with city or town officials about resiliency plans and urge them to create one if none exist.
  • Petition your city or town to install flood/drought resilience infrastructure relevant to your community’s needs.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Farmer
  • Meteorologist
  • City planner
  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Community member with personal impact story

The Issue:

Natural levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases help trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere that allows life on Earth to thrive. Carbon levels remain relatively steady through natural processes that absorb and emit carbon. Since the industrial revolution human activity, such as transportation and energy production, has pumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than the Earth can naturally regulate. This rise of these gases results in global temperature rise that can cause a ripple effect of changes in climate patterns around the world. Many citizens, governments and businesses are working to reduce emissions to protect life on Earth. One element of rising carbon levels that needs more policy and action is the effect of carbon dioxide and global temperature rise on the oceans.

When oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the air, CO2 reacts with the water to form carbonic acid. Carbonic acid then releases hydrogen ions (H+) into the oceans, making them more acidic on the pH scale. Oceans have absorbed approximately 525 gigatons of carbon dioxide and have become 30% more acidic in the past 200 years — ten times the natural rate. This acidification causes the calcium in many organisms’ shells to dissolve, including the vital habitat building corals around the world. This loss in biodiversity is expected to continue in the future and will diminish global food supply, damage natural carbon cycling processes, and reduce accessibility to, and creation of, medicinal products.

In addition to carbon dioxide, oceans absorb a lot of heat. In fact, oceans have absorbed 93% of the atmospheric heating caused by greenhouse gases since the 1970s. Since warm water retains less dissolved gasses (such as oxygen) than cold water, virtually all animal life within oceans will struggle to survive if oceans continue to acidify and warm at this rate. As a result, oceans will decline as a functioning global ecosystem.

Learn more:

  • To deeper understand the causes, scale, effects and consequences of ocean warming,refer to IUCN’s 2016 report
  • Explore NOAA’s page on ocean acidification to learn more about this issue.
  • To learn more about the effects of global warming on our oceans, review WWF’s profile.
  • For more information about this topic and how to tailor the teach-in to your community, refer to your local government agency’s or NGO’s website.

Objectives:

Inform the audience about the causes and effects of ocean acidification and heating and the connections to climate change.
Promote the concepts and values that encourage your audience to recognize the benefits of ocean health and the delicate balance of ocean ecosystems.
Empower your community with civic engagement skills necessary to mitigate ocean acidification and heating!

Calls to Action:

Individual Action

  • Track and mitigate your energy use, such as how much energy you use at home or when driving.
  • Choose plant-based and locally sourced foods for your meals.

Community Action

  • Establish a community composting program to help reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of food waste in landfills.
  • Develop plans to create a community solar program for your neighborhood or town.

Advocate for Change

  • Petition your elected officials to set 100% renewable energy targets.
  • Send letters to your favorite businesses to encourage them to reduce their carbon emissions.

Speaker Ideas:

  • Oceanographers, marine biologists or anyone affiliated with coastal activities in your community
  • City planner
  • Fishing industry professional
  • Environmental justice advocate
  • Renewable energy professional

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