Dr. Steven Ghan is tired of the doom-and-gloom that so often punctuates conversations on climate change. “People don’t want to hear about climate impacts unless they know there are solutions,” the retired PNNL climate scientist says.
That’s where he comes in. Dr. Ghan leads the Tri-Cities chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a grassroots organization that advocates for national climate-mitigation policies. Along with their lobbying work, the Tri-Cities chapter is also a resource for climate education. They host film screenings, lectures, and other public events that foster community engagement, including schools.
But Dr. Ghan and other local volunteers realized that their outreach had a blind spot — youth. “Children have much more to lose from a warmer world than their parents and grandparents, so we’ve been trying to reach students for years,” he says. “We want students to understand both what’s at risk and how that risk can be mitigated.” Marjie Reinig, a retired teacher from Columbia School District and fellow CCL member, echoed this need for hope. “We have a duty to present a way to envision — and create — a better future,” she says.
In an effort to make this future a reality, the Tri-Cities CCL chapter has developed a climate-science presentation specifically for high-school audiences. Designed to fit inside two class periods, the first half of the presentation gives an overview of climate science while the second explores solutions. This latter half incorporates the En-ROADS Climate Change Solutions Simulator, a virtual tool that allows students to examine the efficacy of different mitigation scenarios. “It [the simulator] was designed to help people see connections between climate policy, energy production, greenhouse emissions and removal, and climate change,” Dr. Ghan explains. “It’s been used to brief dozens of U.S. senators, representatives, and their staffers from both sides of the aisle.”
Reinig agrees that En-ROADS provides a particularly engaging exercise for students. “The goal [of climate policy] is to limit global warming to 2ºC, rather than the projected 4ºC, by the year 2100,” she explains. “This simulation (developed by MIT and Climate Interactive) brings together all these concepts and helps them learn which technologies and policies will be most effective.”
As a former educator herself, Reinig urges current teachers to take advantage of this opportunity. “Variety and novel ways of teaching lead to more memorable lessons,” she elaborates. “The students must apply what they have learned, use their own ideas, and interact in a fun way to see which strategy is most effective.” She also points out that the presentation might help students make sense of life after high school. “So many jobs will be obsolete,” she says. “Careers dealing with technologies and practices which reduce global warming will be very much in demand.”
This presentation was developed by Dr. Ghan and a core committee of CCL volunteers, many of whom are former teachers. “We have both the expertise to teach climate science and good news to share about climate solutions,” Dr. Ghan says. Somewhat appropriately, the committee operates under the title of Mid-Columbia Volunteer Science Educators.
The volunteers hope that an outside presentation will remove some of the pressure from teachers. “Because it [climate change] has been politicized in the U.S., teachers are reluctant to teach about the causes and solutions in the classroom,” says volunteer science educator Lora Rathbone. “Since climate change is likely to have a great impact on the future of students, we wish to educate and motivate them to be part of the solution.”
Another volunteer and longtime substitute teacher, Kathleen Walker, agrees that the presentation’s motivations aren’t political. “The goal of working with educators and students is education,” she emphasizes. “We can mobilize the community through the young people who are going to live with climate change — and its attendant solutions.”
This presentation was designed to meet the following state standards as required of high-school science courses:
HS-ESS2-4: Use a model to describe how variations in the flow of energy into and out of Earth’s systems result in climate change.
HS-PS3-1: Create a computational model to calculate the change in the energy of one component in a system when the change in energy of the other components and energy flows in and out of the system are known.
HS-ESS3-5: Analyze geoscience data and the results from global climate models to make an evidence-based forecast of the current rate of global and regional climate change and associated future impacts to Earth’s systems.
If you would like to schedule a presentation or learn more, please contact the Tri-Cities Citizens’ Climate Lobby chapter through their public Facebook page.