Opinion | Combating climate change starts with education

Milo Slevin, Staff Writer

I took an interest in climate change for the first time in third grade. My parents and older brother were talking about it at dinner one day and being a young and impressionable youth, that conversation stuck with me. Not long after, my brother showed me a drone video of a massive pig farm. Countless pigs were lined up in cages, unable to move an inch in either direction. In that moment of disgust and disappointment, I decided to become a pescatarian. Those conversations and that video were my true introduction to some of the biggest problems that the world faces. Afterward, I decided I wanted to become an environmentalist. I didn’t know what that meant, and of course, as an eight-year-old, I didn’t understand the true scope of climate change—but I knew I wanted to fix it. Eight years later, I still don’t eat meat. In fact, this past summer, I upgraded from pescatarian to vegetarian. And now, I am more aware of the environmental impacts of the meat industry. I am more aware of the environmental injustice and of the actions that I can take as a high school student to be a sustainable citizen. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn these things in school. Rather, I had to seek them out myself. I had to join a student-led organization, E-Town Sunrise, and find my own role in this crisis. My story, like so many others’, is a reflection of the failure of United States educational institutes to teach about the next generation’s most pressing issue. 

As disastrous storms become more frequent, global sea levels rise and the world heats continue to heat up, the solutions will come down to what we as individual citizens are willing to do to secure a safe future for generations to come. We, as students, as Evanstonians or simply as Americans, can’t sit idly by and expect the government and powerful corporations to do the right thing. We have to fight for the change we seek. And where does that start? Education. In order for the next generation to combat the climate crisis, it must be given the resources to do so. 

Climate change curriculum is a fundamental part of climate action. According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, “(Education) helps people understand and address the impacts of the climate crisis, empowering them with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to act as agents of change.” 

Education helps people understand and address impacts of the climate crisis, empowering them with the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes needed to act as agents of change.

— United Nations

At ETHS, a Climate Curriculum Committee meets once or twice a month. The committee, run by ETHS Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum Pete Bavis and open to all teachers and students, has the goal of implementing a climate curriculum in all Freshman Biology classes starting in the Fall of 2023. Beyond that, those on the committee hope to have climate change education incorporated into all ETHS classes. In Fashion Design, students can talk about fast fashion and how to reduce the waste of clothing. In American Legal Systems, students can discuss the process of getting climate legislation passed. In English classes, students can participate in a unit of readings on climate change and write about them. 

A wide scale commitment to climate education means that teachers must be properly trained. Dr. Bavis and others on the committee have floated the idea of providing training on how to teach about climate on Wildkit Mondays, when teachers do the stuff. This would be a convenient solution to the time constraints that busy teachers already have to deal with. 

Despite all of the feasible solutions on the table, the committee has stalled on the task of creating meaningful steps to implement the curriculum. This year’s meetings have been filled with empty promises and wasted time. No more than three teachers have been present at any meeting, despite promises to recruit dozens of new educators to the committee. Surveys gaging the current state of climate change curriculum at ETHS were supposed to be sent out to teachers and students in December at the latest. They wound up being put out in late January.  When we finally received the survey results, the dire need for this education was evident.

In the survey, when students were asked if ETHS gives them “the tools to understand the climate crisis,” students on average give the school a 3 on a scale of 1-5. When the same survey asked if ETHS provides “the tools to act upon the climate crisis,” the average dropped to 2.4, with a majority of students answering “1” or “2”. 

The committee met to discuss the survey results on February 8th, and rather than using that meeting to build a comprehensive action plan for the rest of the school year, no steps were taken. In addition to that, the next meeting was scheduled for March 15, over a month later. 

The Climate Curriculum Committee’s time is up. We, the ETHS student body, demand an end to the procrastination and the start of meaningful, important work to educate Evanston youth on how to fight the climate crisis. Teachers and students are ready to create a solution to this pressing issue. Now it’s up to administration to step up. 

As I continue my journey through high school as a climate activist, I constantly think back to my eight-year-old self: the kid who was scared for his future, who would do anything he thought might help. The kid who wanted to be an environmentalist to try to fix a problem that has been disregarded by people in power for decades. That little kid, and others like him, deserve to know what lies ahead. In a few years, it will be the little kids who grew up shielded from the climate crisis that will take control of our institutions. The weight of the world will be on our shoulders, and we had better be prepared to carry it.