It’s time for local school boards to step up to the plate on climate education

The recent Idaho Climate-Economy Impacts Assessment shows that it’s difficult to find a sector of Idaho’s economy that’s not affected by climate change: Farmers are experiencing increased drought as temperatures rise. The national guard is preparing for water to become the most-fought-over resource, propelled by acceleration of the water cycle and changes in precipitation patterns. Hospitals are seeing increased rates of heat stroke, pulmonary diseases, and water contamination-related diseases. Decreased snowpack, a more extreme fire season, and changes in water temperature are causing dramatic changes to our outdoor recreation industry. Greater risk of landslides and extreme weather events are shortening the expected lifespan of Idaho’s infrastructure. Jobs in fossil fuels are disappearing and being replaced by new jobs installing and maintaining the solar and wind farms which are popping up across the state.

Beyond the physical ramifications of global warming, there is also a mental health crisis especially affecting young people. We are paralyzed with anxiety about what the future will look like if nothing is done. We feel helpless watching our leaders deny and abandon their responsibilities. Worldwide, my generation consistently ranks climate change the most important issue of our time.

According to the Yale Program on Climate Communication, 76% of Idahoans believe schools should teach about the causes, consequences, and potential solutions of global warming. Nevertheless, for years, state politicians have used climate education as political football, undermining, minimizing, and outright denying consensus science that greenhouse gas emissions from human activities are causing unprecedented changes in our atmosphere. Partly because of the failure of our state’s leaders to teach future generations scientific fact and partly due to the reputation we’ve developed for contempt for science, Idaho’s economy is suffering. In 2019, 7,633 STEM-related jobs went unfilled in our state affecting employers like Micron Technologies and the Idaho National Lab and resulting in over $24 million in lost tax revenue.

The latest round of anti-science legislation comes with House Concurrent Resolution 27 and House Bill 437 wherein so-called “conservative” legislators are overreaching into decisions typically made by the State Board of Education and attempting to set their own partisan education standards. As the House Education committee continues to advance legislation undermining Idaho’s teachers and our public school system, local school boards must ensure that students are adequately prepared for the changing economic and environmental landscapes in response to climate change.

In the Boise School District, anthropogenic climate change is taught in only one required course: 8th grade earth science. However, many of my peers have never even heard climate change mentioned in a classroom setting. It’s time school districts implement climate science into curriculum at all grade levels, and not just in the science classroom. Research has shown that incorporating climate change into English and social studies classes can increase students’ understanding and engagement with this issue.

My generation of Idahoans should be prepared to tackle the challenges of our time and compete with students from other states. Future farmers need to know about drought-resistant crops as planting zones change. Future scientists need to be involved in the conversation on new refrigeration and energy storage methods. Future doctors need to be prepared for as climate change becomes the greatest single threat to public health. Future engineers and technicians need to be prepared to develop and deploy climate solutions in our state. Future leaders need to know about what can be done to stop global warming, how we can build more resilient communities, and how we can deploy a labor force that bolsters our economy. All of this starts in K-12. If Idaho politicians won’t take responsibility, then local elected officials must.

Shiva Rajbhandari

Shiva Rajbhandari

Shiva Rajbhandari is a climate activist and a member of the Idaho Climate Literacy Education Engagement & Research (ICLEER) executive committee. He is a junior at Boise High.

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