Teaching Students To Live By Paris, An Opportunity For Leadership

The president of the United States this week reneged on a commitment to adopt measures that would reduce greenhouse emissions which the country had negotiated with 195 other nations (which is to say, the entire world except Syria and Nicaragua) on December of 2015, and signed on Earth Day just over a year ago, in April of 2016.

The goal of the Paris Agreement was to begin to adopt measures that would address one of the most significant challenges humanity faces: global warming. There is indisputable scientific evidence that temperatures are rising at rates that will challenge the capacity of living species in our planet to adapt and that while complete undoing of the damage already caused to climate is highly improbable, significantly reducing the rate at which climate is changing is within reach, provided humans change their patterns of consumption and life and provided we pay the costs necessary to bring such changes about. Fundamentally, reversing global warming requires a planetary shift in consciousness, culture and lifestyle. The Paris Agreement was a commitment on the part of governments to develop and implement national plans to achieve certain goals in mitigating climate change, goals which many scientists consider insufficient: to bring the increase in global temperatures to less than two degrees Centigrade of the temperature of the planet before the industrial era.

The decision of President Trump to withdraw from the agreement will cause irreversible damage to the environment, given that the United States is the largest contributor to the rise in global temperatures since preindustrial times (about 20 percent of the 0.7 degree centigrade increase since preindustrial times). The decision to unilaterally pull out of an agreement which so clearly expressed a decision of all nations of the world to collaborate in addressing what most people recognize as the gravest challenge we share as a species will cause the nation irreparable damage in global leadership.

These grave costs to the nation and to the planet imposed by the poor judgement of our president could be mitigated by the leadership of our teachers. The fundamental goal of the Paris Agreement was not just to get governments to cooperate, or to develop plans, it was to induce changes in human behavior, in people’s mindsets, in how we live our lives. Local and State governments and business can still continue to adopt the measures that are essential to reduce rising temperatures, the use of renewable energy, for example, or reducing carbon emissions, or stopping deforestation. In order for them to do these things, the only thing that is needed is not the will of an ill-informed president, but the will of the people. We the people can Continue to Live by Paris, to act in ways that show our understanding of the gravity of the risk of climate change, to support and pay for the measures that reduce global warming. What is most critical to do these things is education. There are abundant resources to help teachers educate their students about climate change and about sustainability, resources that provide access to high quality content on scientific evidence, such as the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, or NASA, or the Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness Network. Developing high quality curriculum to teach about global topics such as climate change is within the reach of all teachers. Our best allies in that work are our students. With a group of graduate students I recently published a curriculum resource that includes a protocol to create a school wide global education strategy, a protocol to design curriculum, and a prototype of 60 lessons, one lesson per grade, addressing themes such as climate change. The book is titled ‘Educating Students to Improve the World in Sixty Lessons’ and has a cost of one dollar as a kindle book. Over the next five days, from June 2 to June 6, to support what I hope will be a groundswell of local leadership to correct the catastrophic decision of President Trump, this kindle book will be free.

The leadership that most matters in this grave moment of crisis for the planet generated by the lack of leadership of our president, is the leadership of our teachers, and the responsibility to educate themselves and to act of our students.