Climate Education

Keeping climate education relevant in a pandemic

New York is the epicenter for the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. But as the state addresses the outbreak, it also simultaneously addresses another crisis: climate change.

In the New York state legislature, three bills seek to establish climate change education into the state’s curriculum. The three bills, all introduced in the last several months, are currently in committee.

In general, here’s what they each say:

  • Climate Education Act (Senate Bill S6837): establishes a climate education grant program to support climate education, including providing resources for teachers, like professional development and training.
  • Senate Bill S7341: establishes environmental curriculum in all public elementary and secondary schools. This legislation would bring climate change into all subjects, not just science.
  • Senate Bill S6877: requires the commissioner of education to make recommendations relating to teaching in climate science in senior high schools.

“The education bills in the New York legislature are a model for the rest of the country,” said Tracey Ritchie, vice president of programs and partnerships at Earth Day Network. “Formally embedding climate education into the education system across grade levels and disciplines is one of the many necessary steps to securing a sustainable future.”

The bills reflect a larger environmental trend worldwide: that of mandatory climate education in schools. In November, Italy became the first country to incorporate climate change and sustainable development into its national curriculum.

A month later, Mexico joined Italy at the United Nations’ 25th Conference of Parties (COP25), declaring the country would incorporate environmental education into its national curriculum.  

Domestically, California passed Senate Bill 720 in 2018, supporting environmental literacy in the state and working to ensure that all public-school students have access to high-quality environmental education programs.

The New York education bills also echo a larger theme currently playing out across the country — mainly, as the federal government drags its feet in responses to crises like coronavirus and climate change, states and cities take matters into their own hands. This most notably happened when the U.S. filed paperwork to pull out of the U.N. Paris Agreement, and more than 400 cities committed to the goals of the agreement anyway.

Perhaps most importantly, New York’s proposed legislation highlights the importance of considering climate change, even in a time of uncertainty. It’s easy to push all other matters to the side when dealing with something as large and disruptive as a pandemic, but that ignores many opportunities to learn from the two crises (and there are many similarities between coronavirus and climate change).

The coronavirus, as horrible as it is, will not last forever. When the pandemic ends, the world will still be threatened by climate change. Continuing to consider climate change, and climate education, will help the next generation prepare for the future.

While much of the world stays indoors in the coming weeks and months, people will have more time to reevaluate their lifestyles. One way to take action for the planet amid a pandemic is to contact your representatives and ask them to support climate education. Additionally, check out Earth Day Network’s environmental education campaign for tools and resources.

And on April 22, join the world’s largest online mobilization for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.