Story at a glance

  • Not all American schools teach students about climate change and its effects on their lives.
  • An open letter from two former secretaries of education asks the Biden administration to commit to promoting climate change education.
  • Two former administrators of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and a former Interior secretary also signed the letter.

This summer, New Jersey became the first state in the country to mandate climate change education in public schools. Now, advocates are urging President-elect Joe Biden to make sure other states do the same. 

"With over 50 million children enrolled in public schools, education can help prepare children and youth to advance a more sustainable world. Whether future engineers, solar installers, business leaders, farmers, or policymakers, the next generation will face the impacts of climate change," wrote former education secretary John King and New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman, who also served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush. The open letter was also signed by former education secretary Arne Duncan and other former Cabinet members as well as scholars and climate activists. 


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In fact, students are already dealing with the consequences of climate change. Natural disasters, which have become more frequent in recent years, have shut down schools from California to Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, heat waves, which research shows affect development and academic achievements, are hurting students from low-income families and minority groups more than others. 

But while more than 80 percent of parents supported students learning about climate change in a NPR and Ipsos poll last year, more than half of teachers in the same survey said they never talked about climate change in their classrooms. 


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While education could be part of the solution to climate change, it’s also part of the problem. Counting the carbon footprint of 98,000 schools, 480,000 primarily diesel school buses and more than 7 billion meals served in school cafeterias, the public education system has a significant environmental impact, the letter said. 

"By including representation of education in a cross-agency plan, the Biden-Harris Administration can help to acknowledge the critical role education can play in climate solutions and help our country build long-lasting change to advance a more sustainable society," said the letter. 


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Published on Dec 04, 2020