Climate Educators Wanted
By Subhankar Banerjee, September 13, 2010

We’ll look back at 2010 as a critical crossroad for climate campaign. The new U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres has made it clear that an International Climate Treaty is basically dead while at the same time she is urging the world leaders to take some practical steps to deal with climate change. And national approaches? It has failed this year both in Australia and the U.S. It is clear now that serious action on climate change is not possible through government actions, at least not anytime soon. In the U.S. we know far too well that big oil and big coal will try to kill whatever threatens their astronomical profits.

We ought to acknowledge that climate campaign is far more complex and far more difficult than any campaign for social justice humanity ever had to deal with. All justice movements of the past dealt with issues within a single nation (or few nations at most) and primarily fought people's prejudices and passion (some cases money was involved too). Climate campaign on the other hand is a planetary crisis for every inch of our earth, every human being regardless of race or class, all animals and birds... for all life, and the climate campaigners need to tackle the largest corporations, corporations who have very serious amounts of money at stake. But its us too –– why would any American give up the quality of their life (even though this level of consumption is not sustainable no matter what clean technology one invents) and why would anyone in China or India give up their dream to have the American way of life? Go figure -- we’re totally screwed!

So I’ve been thinking. While we continue and intensify our climate action of today, we have to think about the future. I mean the next generation, and the one after that... I strongly believe we need major overhaul of our education system. We must make climate education a top priority for all universities, colleges, community colleges, and K–12 schools. While there are pockets of climate centers at various U.S. universities (some of them even get funding from big oil and big coal to produce big climate deniers), but they focus primarily on climate science. I found no humanities based climate institute. We need to name these centers with climate at the banner, say, Institute for Climate Studies. There, students will learn all aspects of climate change –– climate science, climate humanities, climate economics, and climate engineering. Climate science will give us the information and it is necessary, climate humanities will articulate for us the suffering that we’ll have to endure and what we must do to help each other out, and also teach us how to communicate climate stories, and the climate economics and climate engineering will help us chart a course for a clean energy economy. There has never been in the past and there may never be in future a planetary crisis like climate change and our educational institutions must step up to the plate now.

We must acknowledge that our youth will have to deal with climate crimes (I’ve been framing the climate events as crimes) much more than what we’re dealing with today. We must put in place the educational system now, so that today’s youth will be better equipped to fight for a liveable planet for themselves and for all other species with whom they’ll share this earth.

Since 2006 I’ve been a visiting scholar at the Environmental Humanities Graduate Program at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. This is the first graduate program in the country to teach environmental studies from humanities perspective. You can imagine whatever I’m writing here in part has been influenced by the vision of that program that Dean Robert Newman founded and where Terry Tempest Wiliams teaches.

You may laugh at me for proposing such a far–fetched idea of reform through education for an urgent topic like climate change. But I’m convinced that we need climate education at all levels of our education system and we need hundreds of Howard Zinns and Edward Saids to teach and prepare our youth for the climate–to–come.

I hope you’ll join me in taking a slightly longer vision for our climate campaign.

Copyright 2010 Subhankar Banerjee

[UPDATE: September 14, 2010]

Since this piece was posted yesterday, Mark McCaffrey of University of Colorado at Boulder brought to my attention the ongoing climate science literacy projects. He writes, "The Climate Literacy Network and the NSF (National Science Foundation) funded Climate Literacy Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN) are several of the recent efforts to leverage the Climate Literacy: Essential Principles of Climate Literacy (officially reviewed and endorsed by all the federal agencies in the US Global Change Research Program)." You can also check out Mark McCaffrey's climate literacy blog.

My hope is that many other federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, National Endowment for the Arts, and so many others that I do not know about, as well as private foundations with education in mind will help a major overhaul of our education system at all levels with "climate" at the banner.

Thanks to Mark McCaffrey.