Ten by Earth Day 2021: First up, environmental education policy to save the planet
July 31, 2020
The legacy of the first Earth Day in 1970 is rooted in the sweeping environmental laws and regulations that resulted, many of which are under threat today. In honor of the 50th anniversary, and now with less than 100 days until the November elections, Earth Day Network is rolling out the policy initiatives we want to see within the first 100 days of the next Administration, by Earth Day 2021.
These ten policies will address environmental topics such as reliable and equitable access to clean air, water and energy; ambitious measures to address climate change; commitments to replant our nation’s forests; and expanded opportunities for students to engage in high-quality education that advances climate and environmental literacy. This blog is the first of a series to share details about our policy initiatives and how they will improve the health and well-being of our neighbors and our environment. Today we focus on our campaign on climate and environmental literacy.
Earth Day Network believes that climate and environmental education needs to be compulsory, tested and rooted in civics in order to adequately prepare the next generation of leaders. The Administration must immediately expand and sustain federal support for climate literacy and STEM education, with an emphasis on removing barriers and broadening participation for underrepresented groups. Beyond colleges and universities, climate and STEM education should occur across grade levels and disciplines, while always embedding civic action for community resilience and workforce training.
Earth Day Network’s number one climate and environmental literacy policy priority is to promote passage of the Climate Change Education Act. This bill, reintroduced on Earth Day in 2019, focuses on human-induced climate change and the relationship between atmospheric carbon and human activity. It builds understanding of resilience, mitigation and adaptation strategies across sectors, eliminates fear and helplessness in students and strengthens capacity for changemaking and advocacy. This act supports our goal to empower high school and college graduates with the knowledge and skills to take action on climate change as informed voters, consumers and future business and civic leaders. The Climate Change Education Act will also prepare students for “Green Collar” jobs to build a sustainable global economy. We also highly encourage voters and elected officials to take immediate steps to strengthen the Rebuild America’s Schools Act by allocating funding for outdoor classrooms and green spaces. These features will allow for schools to open safely and provide intellectual and emotional benefits for students long after the Covid-19 pandemic has subsided.
According to Congress.gov, the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, “provides financial assistance in FY2020-FY2029 for long-term improvements to public school facilities by allocating funds to states for school improvements, awarding need-based grants to local education agencies, and restoring school infrastructure tax credit bonds.”
There are many retrofits and opportunities for new construction that can be done now to ensure both school buildings and grounds are clean, eco-friendly and sustainable when they reopen. While much work must be done to improve indoor water and air quality and HVAC systems, there is great opportunity to expand outdoor learning classrooms, labs and gardens to enhance learning in a safer environment.
The next iteration of the Every Student Succeeds Act must embed climate and environmental literacy standards across grade levels. Also known as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and formerly, No Child Left Behind, this legislation will improve, enhance and champion education best practices to keep our students competitive in the global workforce.
While current versions of Every Student Succeeds include environmental education as eligible for possible funding opportunities, this law must be expanded to ensure the inclusion and adoption of formal climate and environmental education programming and standards. This will build toward developing a climate and environmentally literate citizenry.
Earth Day Network is leading the charge to advance climate and environmental literacy domestically and across the world. With a global network of Earth Day Schools, educators, students, parents, partners and other allies, we are building a coalition that will not stop until every student has equal access to high-quality education that prepares them for a successful and sustainable future. To learn more about initiatives and resources, sign up for our Educator Network newsletter and take our pledge to support climate and environmental literacy for the students you care about.