Earlier this month at the international climate summit in Paris—the COP21 Conference—thousands of young people gathered to share the impact of climate change on the world and in their own communities. With a climate agreement now reached among 195 countries, these teens may not remember 2015 as the year that climate change was officially solved. Rather, this year marked a moment when political leaders made commitments to their future.
To keep up the momentum of COP21, many have commented that an engaged and climate literate public is necessary for sustained action. Research has shown that people with a strong understanding of climate science are more likely to take informed action. Yet, 54% of 13-to-17 year olds received a failing grade ona national study of teens’ climate knowledge and over half of all states have not yet adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which includes expectations for climate science education in middle and high school.
Organizations like NOAA , NASA , the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), and the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) have developed free resources and professional development trainings for educators to effectively teach climate science to students. Another organization, the Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), takes a unique “edutainment” approach by teaching climate science through school presentations and fellowships to encourage action. Since 2009, ACE has reached over two million students through direct programming, and research demonstrates that students who participated in their programs had a 27% increase over baseline level knowledge of climate science.
ACE student, Victoria Barrett—a current Action Fellow in ACE’s New York office—traveled to Paris with ACE to call on world leaders to reach a universal climate agreement. She’s also a youth plaintiff in a case to sue the federal government for their inaction on climate change.
Recently, I was able to interview ACE’s Leah Qusba to find out more about their work with youth on climate change and how educators can get involved in the program.
How and why did the Alliance for Climate Education start?
ACE was founded in 2008 to educate young people about the science of climate change and empower them to take action. Youth haven’t traditionally been invited to the table when it comes to decisions being made about their own futures. We see an enormous and underutilized potential in youth to create solutions to climate change. As the generation most affected, they have the right to be educated and the responsibility to contribute to solutions.
Can you describe ACE’s approach to teaching climate science to young people?
ACE teaches climate science that puts teenagers at the center of the story. Our live, in-school assembly is award-winning and proven to work. The ACE Assembly combines climate science with pop culture entertainment to create an unforgettable experience.
How has your organization grown and what lessons have you learned over the years?
At ACE, we give every student a chance to take action. For some, it’s a small lifestyle change. For others, it’s hands-on preparation for a lifetime of leadership. It took us several years to refine our leadership development program into the robust initiative that it is today.
The ACE Action Fellowship is a yearlong training program that gives young people the knowledge, skills, and confidence to be powerful climate leaders. We have developed and tested our model through workshops delivered to more than 4,000 students over the past three years.
In each ACE region, we work with local partners to connect Action Fellows to climate campaigns where they can have immediate, real world impact. Our Action Fellows strengthen these efforts with their unique skills, and deepen their own commitment to be lifelong leaders.
Why is climate change important to the youth in your program and what issues do they find the most critical to address?
Youth have the most to lose when it comes to climate change, but also the most to gain by solving it. ACE supports young people who want to take control of their future. Our youth leaders see climate change as the greatest challenge of their generation and they feel called to contribute to meaningful solutions. Above all, they see climate change as a justice issue. Climate change affects certain communities disproportionately and it’s our collective responsibility to support just solutions. ACE’s holistic programming tells the whole climate story. We are broadening the traditional climate movement by inviting more diverse voices to the table and empowering them to contribute to meaningful solutions:
- 60% of the students reached with the ACE Assembly are youth of color
- 70% of all schools we reach are public
- 64% of Action Fellows are youth of color
- Bottom line: ACE programs connect climate change to issues of justice and equity
What advice do you have for educators who want to get involved in climate education work nationally, or in their local communities?
The ACE website is a fabulous resource for climate education and action resources. ACE is the leading organization in this field both locally and nationally. We have a special page just for teachers. We are also launching a brand new online climate education multimedia experience in January 2016. It’s called Our Climate Our Future. It’s based off of our award-winning live Assembly. It’s a multimedia journey through climate science, impacts and solutions.
We are also launching an innovative climate action challenge, The Get Loud Challenge, also in January. The Get Loud Challenge will motivate youth to take highly visible online and offline action to bring climate change out of the shadows and into the spotlight.
This competition will incentivize students to continue to stay involved in the climate conversation and take repeated actions over time, like having conversations on climate change with friends, parents, and elected officials, and getting the media to cover climate change the way it deserves to be covered.
This program will empower 500,000+ young people from all 50 states to take action. After engaging in conversations and actions with community members and elected officials, they’ll bring those conversations to social media, and encourage their friends to get involved. I believe the youth who take the greatest actions will be celebrated as America’s most influential climate leaders with experiential and reputational awards.