Climate change education must be a national and global priority
Our planet is no stranger to hurricanes and other natural disasters, yet time and time again, so many are willing to turn a blind eye to the stronger, larger, and more damaging storms that are nature’s warnings — in addition to devastating droughts, tornados in places they haven’t touched down before, and harmful algal blooms, among much more.
To aid in the effort of tackling climate change, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) is building on the outcomes of COP26 to educate and deliver action on an array of issues—from urgently reducing greenhouse gas emissions, building resilience and adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change, to delivering on the commitments to finance climate action in developing countries.
We have a duty to make our environment strong enough to withstand the impacts of climate change and this starts by educating our students. Together, we all need to play a part in the battle against climate change. We must act now to protect ourselves and future generations from the increasingly violent storms and devastation that will come years and decades from now. And as global leaders convene, we must emphasize that education is a key component to promote climate action.
In New Jersey, for example, students have begun learning the vocabulary and analytical skills necessary to preserve all that we love about the Garden State and to succeed in an economy changed by the climate crisis. In every grade from kindergarten through senior year of high school, new standards incorporating climate change education across seven content areas — 21st Century Life and Careers, Comprehensive Health and Physical Education, Science, Social Studies, Technology, Visual and Performing Arts, and World Languages — will help create a generation of climate literate policy makers, data analysts, entrepreneurs, urban planners, researchers, anthropologists, journalists, economists, artists and more. Climate change is the greatest long-term threat facing humanity and it will affect every aspect of our children’s lives. This is more than just a new educational requirement; we view this as a partnership between generations.
Make no mistake, New Jersey is incredibly proud to be first in this endeavor, but we know that collective action is our one and only hope of combating the climate crisis impacting our nation and world. Therefore, we need every state and country to step-up and join us. And, if you do lean in together with us, you have our word that we will be your partner and share all that has worked for us. With so much to gain and no time to lose, we hope this educational movement will progress quickly.
We already have folks reach out about our standards from other states including Oregon, Wyoming, Colorado, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania — we even had someone reach out to us from Australia.
Climate education leverages our exemplary education system and the will of our young people to mitigate the worst effects of climate change and achieve New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s goal of reaching 100 percent clean energy by 2050. The exciting and important steps being taken on the federal level through the Inflation Reduction Act provides us with additional reason to believe that necessary collective action is finally being taken.
This marks a seismic shift in the way protecting the environment has long been viewed. Rather than an impediment, the national and global transition to a green economy will serve as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for economic growth, which we are undertaking with an intention to achieve equity and environmental justice.
Building wealth across all communities, increasing job opportunities in brand new industries, empowering our entrepreneurs, improving our residents’ health, and preserving the beauty of our nation and world, all through the power of education — that is what incorporating climate change education can do.
New Jersey is urging others to join the movement. Will our planet be plagued by drought and wildfire, one contending with unprecedented and deadly flooding, desperately searching for ways to save it, or one that has given the next generation the tools to develop innovative solutions and thrive in the new economic opportunities that will be cleaner than the industries of today?
Climate change is already affecting our lives in both small and large ways. We can’t put it off any longer.
Tammy Murphy is the first lady of New Jersey.