Helping The Next Generation Confront Climate Change
by Courtney Sale Ross
Many in the scientific community estimate that by 2050 the Earth will face an irreversible stage of widespread environmental destruction, and that historic climate norms which have existed since the 1800s would become outliers in the new environmental trend. This disastrous scenario presents a terrifying vision that must compel us to implement thoughtful and lasting change. This begins with how we educate our children and their teachers. Teaching our children to face this environmental crisis is our moral and ethical obligation.
Twenty-five years ago my late husband, Steve Ross, and I founded the Ross Institute and Ross School on the principles that education must adapt and evolve to address changes and issues in the world. Teaching sustainability should be a foundational principle of how we educate our children. We must work together to change the current destructive trajectory but also to prepare our children to deal with the possibility of a stark future, and to inspire them to create solutions or ways to prevent such a scenario. It is not enough to cover sustainability in one course, but rather we should weave a thread throughout all disciplines, across the years of learning, to develop a deep understanding of sustainability.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2015, for the United States alone, it is projected that approximately 55,957,000 students will enroll in K-12 education. That is almost 20 percent of the entire population of the United States. How are we endowing this next generation of leaders, business makers, and society contributors to deal, maintain and hopefully solve this global crisis? This is a question that was discussed at a recent workshop: “Children and Sustainable Development: A Challenge for Education” at the Pontifical Academy of Sciences (PAS), this month.
With the help and advice of the scientific and academic communities, specifically the astrophysicist Pierre Lena, and the Chancellor of the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and Social Sciences, Monsignor Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo – as well as with the blessing of Pope Francis – this workshop was conceived after the PAS hosted another workshop last May, entitled: “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility.” During that workshop, I was struck, and sobered, by the statistics being presented on climate change and the environmental crises of our global community. But I was keenly aware of the lack of mention of our children and their education. Before leaving Rome I met with Pierre Lena and anthropologist Yves Coppen, to create a proposal for this month’s meeting which was eventually accepted.
I am proud of the fact that this conference not only brought together some of the brightest adult minds in sustainability and education, but also featured presentations by students from the Ross School, as well as a number of their contemporaries from across the globe. These students are not just part of an agenda or a conference program, they are the alpha and omega of the entire event; without student participation, this movement can go only so far.
With the UN Climate Change Conference scheduled for next month in Paris, and the recent collective plea from the world’s patriarchs, cardinals and bishops to those holding that summit, this is the moment to not only set parameters on how we approach this global crisis, but also how we instill the knowledge and call to action in our youth. Science, globalization, economics, technology and religion are all converging on issues of sustainability and climate change. It is imperative that experts in the fields of primary and secondary education engage in, and contribute to, the discourse and development of ways to address and help others understand the significance and urgency of these new challenges to humanity.
The early engagement of our youth is a vital component in solving the problems faced by the planet. Failure to kindle this engagement into more widespread and lasting change in primary and secondary education worldwide will confirm our irrevocable path to 2050. Now is the time to make education policy changes and forge a sustainable path.
Courtney Sale Ross founded Ross School in East Hampton, NY in 1991 with her late husband, and has dedicated the last 25 years of her life to innovating education. She recently served as Honorary President of the Vatican’s Papal Academy of Sciences’ workshop entitled, “Children and Sustainable Development: A Challenge for Education.”
Image attribution flickr user usdepartmentofagriculture