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What schools can do to tackle climate change (Hint: more than you think)

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What schools can do to tackle climate change (Hint: more than you think)

It takes a lot of mental and emotional energy to recognize that climate change exists, that people are causing it, and that it will take a massive restructuring of society to reverse its most devastating effects.

The most appealing answer may be to put off responsibility or just hope for a miracle. But leading climate change experts warn that inaction will have a profound effect on humanity and the planet that supports it. The effects of global warming are already affecting school communities, as severe weather disrupts learning time and teenagers report rising climate alarms.

What can school and district leaders do? A lot, it turns out.

Schools play a big role in reducing emissions of harmful greenhouse gases that cause carbon dioxide congestion. The country’s schools emit as much carbon each year as 18 coal-fired power plants or 8 million homes, according to analysis with Data from the US Department of Energy from the Generation180 advocacy group. They also spend 530,000 tons of food a year This was reported by the World Wildlife Fund. And nearly 95 percent of school buses run on diesel environmental damage is well documented.

Schools can take action now to help keep students, staff and school buildings safe in the event of severe weather caused by climate change. They can enable future generations to pay attention to the world around them and fight for a more conscientious approach to life on earth.

Schools should not do any of this alone. But they need motivation and support. With the help of more than a dozen experts on school building, climate change impacts and student advocacy, Education Week has identified some of the key barriers to action and ideas to overcome these barriers.

The task ahead is huge, and schools are already busy

Training America’s diverse population of 50 million K-12 students in a deadly pandemic, political storm, budget deficit, labor shortage and staff fatigue is a daunting task. Many school leaders simply feel that they do not have the capacity to take new initiatives, especially terrible ones.

Experts recommend: Start small. Areas do not need to deal with all the effects of climate change at once. But consider these efforts a supplement, not a supplement to what the district is already doing to help students and staff.

Replacing or building infrastructure requires large investments

The average age of school buildings in the United States is 44 years federal data. Many are a decade older, some a century older. Repairs take them years and big investments.

The federal government and about a dozen states, including Idaho, Michigan, Montana and Tennessee,practically do not contribute to the improvement of school buildingsleaving local areas to either raise property taxes, secure grants, or cut programs and staff to free up funds. In areas with money shortages that are struggling to fund the basics, there is a shortage of staff to explore the benefits and find money for large new facilities and curriculum projects.

Just over a third of the 960 teachers, district leaders and principals who responded to a representative survey by the EdWeek Research Center in February said more money would be needed to improve schools’ ability to withstand the effects of climate change.

Experts recommendA: Funding and resources are there, even if it’s not always obvious. Pay attention to organizations like Sierra Club, National Foundation for Environmental Education, Draft solutions, A trip to the climate, Schumacher Family Foundation, Cooperation for high-level schools, Trust for public land, Kresge Foundationand Whole Kids Foundation.

Some states like Maryland, New Jerseyand Pennsylvania, offer grants to build the school. California Department of State Architectthe state government is helping school districts modernize their buildings to sustain and reduce energy emissions.

This database includes hundreds of clean energy incentives that schools can use. Click “Apply Filters” in the upper right corner, then select “Appropriate Sectors”, “Non-Resident”, “Public Sector” and “Schools”.

Do not exclude the federal government. Check out this Aspen Institute leadership to climate-related school funding opportunities in the Infrastructure Investment Act passed by Congress last year. One to watch out for: the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will soon start accepting applications a $ 5 billion discount on replacing diesel school buses with electric equivalents.

Doing great things takes time

New school premises take years from design to construction, and construction teams often have to work during the school year to avoid relocating students and staff. Districts that are in a hurry with this process run the risk of hiring contractors who will not meet their requirements, or face strict rules for building new schools.

Experts recommend: If you can’t make big changes in one day, plan what you will do to improve energy efficiency if key systems eventually fail or need to be replaced. This tools of the Institute of New Buildings can be a big help.

Also, don’t think too much and don’t overestimate how much work it will take to get started. A new composting program, a public garden or a class trip to a local nature reserve or landfill can be a starting point for creating a culture of open discussion about climate change.

Some people and places are still not convinced

In many parts of the country, public discussion of climate change remains taboo and highly politicized. Nearly 140 current members of Congress have publicly questioned the existence of climate change or the role of man in it, according to analysis of the Center for American Progress.

An Survey in April 2020 The Pew Research Center found that nearly 90 percent of Democrats, but only 31 percent of Republicans believe that climate change is a serious global threat. Similarly, 45 percent of conservative Republicans in 2019 believed that people were contributing to climate change “not too much” or “not at all”. according to Pew. Only 20 percent of all American adults said the same thing.

In recent years, lawmakers in several states have tried to delete the term “climate change” from state standards of science education. У survey by states State Standards K-12 in 2020 Six states – Alabama, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia – received an F rating from the National Center for Science Education and the Texas Freedom Network Education Foundation for the inclusion of climate change. Eleven more states got C or worse.

Even the most benevolent district leaders are struggling to garner public support for significant climate mitigation efforts.

Experts recommend: Emphasize other reasons why investments make sense. Electric school buses smell nicer than diesel buses; energy savings mean lower long-term costs; teaching students climate and conserving energy and resources can help bring them closer to nature.

If this is not seen, it does not feel urgent

In many parts of the country, climate change is not detected on a daily basis. Even where climate change affects weather conditions or causes more frequent hurricanes, floods or forest fires, it is not always easy for people to make a connection between what they see in front of them and the more abstract forces that control it.

Experts recommend: Share examples from across the country where climate change is a significant threat. Listen students advocating calls for change in communities across the country.

Trying to improve means acknowledging the shortcomings

Some district leaders may be reluctant to highlight the poor state of the infrastructure of their school buildings for fear of alienating the communities they serve, or paint a less attractive picture for families considering enrolling their child in the district.

Experts recommend: Suppose parents are smart enough to recognize the structural factors that prevent school districts from spending as much as leaders would like. Think in the long run about the benefits of gathering political will for improvements that will last for generations. Don’t forget that students and staff already know what’s going on in their school buildings.

If you don’t know, you can’t act

In many areas, especially small ones, there is no one responsible for exploring grant opportunities and tracking the latest research on useful sustainable development initiatives.

Experts recommend: Now couldn’t be a better time to have someone in that role. Previously, energy efficiency was incredibly expensive and confusing, but in many cases it is no longer the case. Portland public schools in Oregon, for example, works as a climate justice program manager include climate change issues in the curriculum and work with students on climate advocacy. Other areas, such as Salt Lake City, have hired sustainable development managers to help unite different corners of the school district in pursuit of clean energy and climate awareness.

About this series

This article is the second in an ongoing Education Week series on how climate change and school intersect. We seek to highlight how schools contribute to climate change; highlight the challenges facing areas in tackling climate change; and offer solutions to the feelings of helplessness and anxiety that often accompany the subject. If you have an idea for a related story for us, please email mwill@educationweek.org.

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