11/15/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

We Need NRE (Natural Resource Education)

By Thomas M. Kostigen

We often hear that the next generation must be saved from the effects we've waged on the environment. But how about teaching them to save themselves as well?

We need a national natural resource curriculum that includes lessons on climate change for students--kindergarten and above - and we need it now. We need to empower young people with an education and information about what may be in store for them.

As it stands we are trying to treat the effects of climate change and in many cases we are attacking the causes. Still, we are ignoring a vital part of the healing process - understanding. When we educate future leaders with a better understanding of the world's ills we won't at least have dropped the baton on them too.

Right now there are one-off workshops and special programs that address climate change and/or the endangerment of our natural resources. Conoco Phillps, the energy giant, has rolled out a series of workshops to "provide America's teachers with training and resources on key energy topics." (Yes, you may go back and read that sentence again.) Some nonprofit organizations have also begun programs that teach kids about global warming and the effects we ("man") are having on the world. These latter programs are under fire because many governments and school boards say the science is still out on man-made global warming. (In July, even "green" Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have provided schools a framework for studying climate change in science classes saying he opposes educational mandates.)

As the effects on climate change weigh more and more on our young we need to move beyond elective courses and past the noise of the flat earth society.

Ken Stenek, a grade-school science teacher way up north in Shishmaref Village, Alaska, where the effects of climate change are visible NOW says he actually teaches his students about global warming via a course he devised because "they live it."

I visited Stenek while researching my new book, and I quote his way of thinking: " give them a 'canvas' to find solutions may be one of the greatest gifts we can give to students as we teach them the concepts of global warming."

It may not be long before kids "down here" are also going to be faced daily with the effects of climate change. (Shishmaref Village is succumbing to sea level rise and coastal erosion and must be abandoned.)

Teaching children what we know so far about what's going on with the planet should be mandated. Natural resource defense lessons should be part of a national curriculum. Prizes should be awarded at science fairs for creative solutions to environmental problems. In short, we need to declare war on natural resource inefficiencies and global warming -- and draft our young as soldiers to help fight.
Thomas M. Kostigen is the author of You Here Are: Exposing the Vital Link Between What We Do and What That Does to Our Planet (HarperOne).